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Jailed Mueller witness who sparked probe. TRANSCRIPT: 3/26/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Jim Walden, Berit Berger, Heidi Przybyla, George Papadopoulos,Sheldon Whitehouse


KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST:  That is all for MTP DAILY tonight.

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

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Hi, Katy.  I had a great time doing some breaking coverage with you over the weekend.  I know you pulled heroic hours on Sunday.

TUR:  It was -- for me having covered this now, since June of 2015, it was one of the most interesting moments and I`m really happy that I got to be there to report on it before the baby came so --

MELBER:  Before the baby.

TUR:  Now we`re in the clear.  Now we can go.

MELBER:  Well, as I understand it, your life is overlapped with your work, right?  I mean you`ve been through so much particularly from covering this campaign from the start, from some of the questions you posed about whether Donald Trump was being serious when he asked for--

TUR:  Totally.  I mean --

MELBER:  But now, no chargeable collusion in the view of Mueller.  What`s your take now that it`s all settled in?

TUR:  I still have a big question about why he would look and say Russia found Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. Maybe the answer is as simply -- as simple as he was trying to make a business deal or he just really likes Vladimir Putin.  I mean he tweeted in 2013 that he wanted to be Vladimir Putin`s best friend.

So maybe it is that simple.  Maybe it`s more nefarious.  I`d like to see more of the report to find out exactly what Mueller found.  We`ll see.

MELBER:  Well, you said, is it that simple?  Wasn`t it Wu-Tang Clan who once asked can it be that it was all so simple?  It doesn`t yet seem until we seek the whole report.  We don`t know how simple it was.  Maybe it was really simple.  And maybe people lied because they were in the habit of lying and it didn`t explain underlying allegations.

TUR:  Or we could go to Fischler, could go to we`ve got it simple because we`ve got a band.  If you want to throw lyrics back and forth.

MELBER:  Wash your face and drive me to Firenze.  Take me to a babymoon vacation.

TUR:  Hey.  Good job.  Do you think when the baby comes out, his first words will be no collusion?

MELBER:  Oh, I don`t know.  I don`t know.  But I look forward to -- is this weird to say?  I don`t think so.  I look forward to meeting the baby and seeing whether collusion is his or her first word. 

TUR:  No collusion.

MELBER:  Katy Tur, always good to have a toss with you.  Thank you.

TUR:  Bye, Ari.

MELBER:  We do have a big show tonight, including some very special guests.  There are reports tonight that a public version of this Mueller report will be out within weeks.  According to DOJ, that`s obviously big.

Now with this Mueller probe over, as Katy and I were just discussing, we are getting new things.  We are getting inside scoops like we`ve never seen before.  In fact, tonight, for the first time ever on MSNBC, the now famous convicted ex-Trump aide who sparked the Mueller probe then went to prison, we`ll get into all of it with, yes, George Papadopoulos.

I`m even going to get into a big question that I think we`re all still wondering and trying to figure out, why so many lies including his confessed lie when there was no chargeable collusion?  Also, what was it like in prison?  Everything is going to be on the table.  George Papadopoulos here tonight on THE BEAT.

And later, there is big news on Obamacare.  We`re going to show you that later in the show.

But we begin with what is known about what Bob Mueller found.  For all the talk about Mueller`s findings, no one outside of the DOJ as of this hour has seen them yet.  Instead, we have Attorney General Bill Barr`s now famous letter, some Democrats are calling it basically a press release.  It states Mr. Barr`s view of things and as attorney general, we report on his view, it`s important.

But Democrats are now dialing up the pressure in a big way.  They`re demanding the public report within the week, one week.  And there`s new signs, as I mentioned, the DOJ sort of responding because they`re saying tonight it will come out within weeks but not by that deadline in that big letter that you see on your screen.

Dems say they have leverage because they will issue a subpoena if needed and Speaker Pelosi now taking a pointed shot at Mr. Barr, Donald Trump`s newly installed attorney general.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  Let us see the report.  We don`t need an interpretation by an attorney general who is appointed for a particular job to make sure the president above the law.  We need to see the report.


MELBER:  What you heard there is the sitting speaker making a serious allegation against the person in charge of upholding a law, the sitting attorney general.  We should note Pelosi there is going much farther than President Obama`s Attorney General Eric Holder who had criticism for Barr but not quite to that degree.

He made his first comments on the way Barr is handling this in his letter, telling us last night that he viewed the way Barr is doing this as wrong.  Take a look.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think he`s 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.  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.


MELBER:  I`m joined tonight for the kickoff of our show by Jim Walden, a former federal prosecutor who also has represented a Mueller witness.  Berit Berger, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.  And NBC`s Heidi Przybyla who joins us live on Capitol Hill where this big fight is going.

Jim, your view of what Eric Holder said and what Nancy Pelosi supersized?

JIM WALDEN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, really, there is a problem here, right.  On the one hand, he was clear -- Trump was cleared of collusion.  On the other hand, we have this big riddle, the big mystery, which is what is the evidence of obstruction and what did Mueller say about it?

I certainly agree with Eric Holder that I`ve never seen anything like this before.  Usually, where you have a report, you have a recommendation.  We have a recommendation on the report with respect to collusion.  Where is the recommendation with respect to obstruction?

MELBER:  Do you think it`s possible that Barr is spinning this and he has taken a considered Watergate-style road map and turned it into a power grab?

WALDEN:  I don`t think that Barr would do something like that.  But what I do believe is that that report does one of two things.  It either, one, says that there`s enough facts to indict the president but it`s unclear if there`s enough facts to convict the president.

Or, two, it takes Barr`s view that even if you do something with corrupt intent, as long as you`re allowed to do it, then you can`t be indicted for it on an obstruction statute.  So I think one of those two things is at play.  I don`t suspect Barr`s motives.

MELBER:  Fair.  And appreciate your care there to that issue.  Let me play a little bit more of the Attorney General, Eric Holder.  I mean you both have worked for attorney`s general and his view of what Jim was just talking about, the decisions that someone in Mueller`s position would have to make.  Take a look.


HOLDER:  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, I mean the letter talks about he`s not exonerating anybody so he`s not in a position to decline the case.  The only other option, that would be the attorney general or somebody in the Justice Department shipping out that which he put together to Congress for consideration.


MELBER:  Is your view that given the discussion of what happens with a sitting president, this was Mueller trying to send it to Congress or we don`t know?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN & EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  I think we just don`t know right now.  It`s hard to know what Mueller was intending without knowing what he actually said.  I mean as you`ve mentioned on this program before, we didn`t even get any complete sentences from the actual Mueller report and as part of the summary.

MELBER:  Is that suspicious?

BERGER:  I don`t know if it`s suspicious but it`s frustrating.  It`s frustrating for us trying to draw conclusions about that without actually having any details here.

MELBER:  All right.  I said is it suspicious, you said frustrating.  I`ll give you another word, Berit, for your analysis.


MELBER:  I think it`s whack.  I think we went 22 months and Mr. Barr gets to do two things.  He does have the lawful authority as attorney general to issue his judgments and to share them so he did that part.

That`s fine.  And he has a view that actually if anything is transparently known, he`s very skeptical of the idea that any president can commit obstruction, by or beware if he`s going to make the call on obstruction.  He might think it`s a literal impossibility in most of the situations that`s described.

But then, he`s also saying, and this is what the rules require, here`s what Mueller did, here is my confidential report, and I`m transmitting as required, not his call, to Congress indictments we already knew about, declination decisions we didn`t, and there he`s putting his thumb on the scale with very selective quotes, isn`t he?

BERGER:  Yes.  I mean the question is, when we actually get to see this, one, how much of the report are we actually going to get to see?  Will we get to see the underlying evidence that, you know, went into Mueller`s decisions on the collusion part?  And will we get to see the pieces of evidence that he laid out there that Mueller said did not fully exonerate the president?

If the answer is, yes, then the American people can draw their own conclusions.  I mean the chapter on whether there`s going to be criminal charges here, that`s closed.  The attorney general made a decision --

MELBER:  On conspiracy.

BERGER:  On conspiracy.  But the attorney general also made a decision that he did not think that there was enough to charge obstruction.  So from my perspective --

MELBER:  But, again, I think that is confusing to people because no attorney general indicts the boss president under the current rules of the DOJ.  In any party, in any administration.

WALDEN:  But there is one part that`s just wrong, right?  And we can go to Marta Stewart and Scooter Libby as examples.  But Barr`s claim that you can`t indict someone for obstruction of justice if they`re not guilty of the underlying crime is just not DOJ`s policy, even during Barr`s administration when he was attorney general.

There was a case called Cammisano, the United States v. Cammisano, where Barr`s Justice Department indicted someone for obstruction when they weren`t charged with the underlying crime.

MELBER:  Right.  And so the question for the country is how much do you want to put credence in Barr?  I mean you could do the thought experiment, Heidi, and Democrats have been arguing this.  What if this was a letter from Whitaker who was whether people like it or not, the lawful acting attorney general?  What if it was Sessions?

There is something about this sort of steely long-running Washington credibility of Mr. Barr, and I`ve said on this program and I`ll say it again, he is a very talented lawyer and prosecutor.  There`s something there where he`s getting farther.

Can you walk us through in the building you`re in, the fight on the Hill what Democrats are doing and how that`s affecting when people may see more of this report?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS:  Right, Ari.  With the Justice Department information coming out now that Barr plans to release this to Congress within weeks, not months, the question now is how many?  How long?

Democrats are not willing to wait that long.  You saw that they gave the week-long deadline.  And I met with a number of committee representatives today, Ari who said that they do stand ready to subpoena that document if it`s not given to them in a timely manner.

If Barr says it`s in weeks and not months, well, that`s a pretty wide open category and he`s also saying that he`ll give some version of it.  So based on the memo that he released, there are a lot of skeptics up here that they`re going to get all of their questions answered.

And so they are discussing now at this hour what to do if time passes on Friday and Barr hasn`t produced the report and hasn`t given them a specific date for when he`s going to produce that report.

MELBER:  And let me ask you, briefly, the metaphysical political question.  Whose side is time on?  Is delay better for the DOJ and Mr. Trump`s defense or is it better for the Congress and the Democrats in the House?

PRZYBYLA:  Delay is clearly better for the president.  Every Democrat who I spoke to today, Ari, was really agitated by the thought that the president is really capturing the narrative here and declaring himself exonerated on everything which is just not the case when it comes to the obstruction situation which we have described in detail.

MELBER:  Right.

PRZYBYLA:  And yet the Democrats don`t have anything to counter that with yet because they don`t know what the reasoning is.  And I will tell you this.  There is another thing, Ari, that is important to -- there is a timeline here.

Barr is going to be up here testifying on April 9 before the House Appropriations Committee.  It`s a regular budget testimony that he has to give.  And I can tell you based on my discussions with aides that they`re already discussing the questions that he must answer and it starts with those questions that you`ve been deliberating about whether Mueller was operating under the assumption that you cannot indict a sitting president.

MELBER:  Right.  And that would explain --

PRZYBYLA:  Because the way the memo is crafted, it might have been Rosenstein and Barr --

MELBER:  There`s a lot of talk --

PRZYBYLA:  -- who were making that assumption.

MELBER:  There is a lot of talk about whether Bob Mueller punted and no one is going to know any of that fact until we see what Bob Mueller wrote.  Jim, on the other side, which we always try to look at all sides of this, the president`s lawyer decided on the big Monday night news to come on THE BEAT.  We were thrilled to have him.

And here was part of his explanation of their view of it in our exchange.  Take a look.


MELBER:  While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime it also --

SEKULOW:  OK, there you go, number one.

MELBER:  -- does not exonerate him.  Yes, sir.

SEKULOW:  Right.

MELBER:  So what does not exonerate mean to you?

SEKULOW:  They did make a determination.  That`s all it means.  They did not find the president committed a crime.  They did not make a determination.

What did 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 in a crime, it doesn`t exonerate.



WALDEN:  Stuck in the question.  The bottom line is when this report comes out and all the facts are laid bare, it`s going to be bad news for Trump.  And sooner or later, it`s coming out.

MELBER:  That is very interesting and that might explain why even some of the folks seemed on the Trump side surprised by "how good it was" or how good was it?  Again, we don`t know.  What was good was Donald Trump`s handpicked attorney general`s summary.

Maybe it`s not a surprise that that part was good even though as we`ve been reporting since Friday on the lack of any conspiracy indictments was obviously great news and settles that from the chargeable analysis.

Jim Walden, Berit Berger here in New York, Heidi Przybyla with fresh reporting from the Hill, thanks to each of you.

I`m moving fast because coming up, I have the Mueller witness who literally sparked the Russia probe and went to prison for lying to the Mueller investigators and feds with his first-ever appearance on MSNBC.  If there was no collusion, why so many lies?

And later, my interview with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse grilling Donald Trump`s attorney general on obstruction back in the day and the Trump administration with a new attack on Obamacare that could really matter.

You`re watching a special edition of THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  One of the most pivotal figures in the entire Mueller probe, the feds say George Papadopoulos unwittingly helped launch the investigation itself.  He also, you may recall, was the very first person to plead guilty and the former Trump campaign aide quickly became a household name.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:  Newly unsealed guilty plea from George Papadopoulos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Trump campaign volunteer Adviser George Papadopoulos.

Yum-George Papadopoulos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  George Papadopoulos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  George Papadopoulos pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.


MELBER:  Trump`s team, however, quick to downplay Papadopoulos` role in the campaign.


MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  He was the coffee boy.  I mean you might have called him a foreign policy analyst but, in fact, if he was going to wear a wire, all we`d know now is whether he prefers a caramel macchiato over a regular American coffee in conversations with his barista.


MELBER:  That barista dis became famous all on its own.  But you have probably seen the now very famous photo from March 31, 2016.  Papadopoulos in a foreign policy meeting with Jeff Sessions and then-candidate Trump.

He was telling them about a potential meeting idea between Trump and Putin.  And "The New York Times" went on to report how his wine-fueled conversation with the Australian ambassador set off the investigation itself and revealed e-mails linking him to a Russian intelligence operation that was going on alongside the 2016 election.

Now, in December, Papadopoulos completed a 12-day prison sentence.  He struck a plea deal with Mueller`s investigators for lying to the FBI.  Now today, he is saying he didn`t really lie and he claims he was pressured into that deal.

George Papadopoulos is here joining me for his first ever MSNBC interview when we`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER:  I`m joined by former Donald Trump aide and Mueller defender George Papadopoulos for his first ever interview on MSNBC.  Thanks for coming on THE BEAT.

GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE:  Thanks for having me, Ari.  I`m looking forward to this.

MELBER:  I want to get into all of it.  Let`s start with the meeting you took.  "The New York Times" reporting Mifsud had arranged this meeting in a London cafe between you and this young woman, Olga Polonskaya, who was falsely described as Putin`s niece.  And the report here is that this, and as you say, other meetings were part of what kicked off the whole probe.

So one thing I`m asking you is knowing what you know now, do you regret going to those meetings that contributed to a probe which you say was a real hassle?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I definitely wish I never came into contact with these people but not necessarily because of the way they were falsely portrayed by the FBI.  Quite frankly, as Russian intermediaries or the niece of Vladimir Putin.  She was obviously not that person.

MELBER:  What did Mueller`s investigators want to know about what you did with what you heard at that meeting?  Because as you know, there was a real crime of stealing e-mails?


MELBER:  The Russians have been found to have been involved in that and they were wondering what that you might know.

PAPADOPOULOS:  Have Russians been talking to you about hacked e-mails, Russian interference, et cetera.  I said no and this is quotable.  This isn`t my offense.  I said no but there was this Maltese guy named Joseph Mifsud who told me that the Russians possess thousands of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.

Now, as I state in my book, the look on the FBI agents` face was as if I was telling them the sky is blue and two plus two equals four.  As if they already knew it.  I`ll never forget that.

So I`m trying to sit there and tell them this guy told me those, you should look into him.  That`s OK, it`s not that important.

MELBER:  Tell us when you -- let`s slow down there.  Your contention being you were dropping a bombshell.


MELBER:  Oh, my God.  This guy, Hillary`s stolen e-mails, maybe Russian spy, names link.  And they don`t have a big reaction.


MELBER:  But then -- so let`s get into the book.


MELBER:  Then, you write in your book that they want to meet with you without a lawyer and you say, like a fool, you went ahead and did that meeting.


MELBER:  And then they ask you, the FBI, we want you to wear a wire.  We want you to work for us.  We want you to get this guy Mifsud for us.  We`ll pay you.  You can be a key part of the FBI operation.

And you write what the F am I supposed to say to this?  Am I a hero now?  I`m just a policy guy, a networker who wants to build alliances.  For a second, part of me likes the idea.  Why not go wear the wire?

PAPADOPOULOS:  There was that thrill for the split second like, who knows, maybe I can be a hero and uncover something and help my country.  Because at the end of the day, throughout my career, I dealt a lot with American intelligence type.

MELBER:  Right.  So were you worried?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I was worried for my safety and that I could possibly get Sucked into some rabbit hole without any end in sight.

MELBER:  So you say no to that?

PAPADOPOULOS:  And I say no to that.

MELBER:  Then when you look at this, their desire to have you wear a wire against this person, Mifsud, that suggests that he is not on team FBI or otherwise why would they need a wire for him?

PAPADOPOULOS:  It could have been an entrapment operation.

MELBER:  Against whom?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Against me.

MELBER:  But they already had you.  They got you to plead guilty.

PAPADOPOULOS:  They didn`t get me to plead guilty for almost a year after that.

MELBER:  I understand.  But they didn`t need that to get you.  I mean you went to prison with all respect.  So you know they didn`t need that on you.  Does it make sense that they would need a wire against someone that was on their team?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Look, this is a -- it`s a bizarre story.  I`m just giving the facts now, right?

MELBER:  Where is Mifsud now?

PAPADOPOULOS:  OK.  Now, Mifsud, no one has seen him in two years.

MELBER:  So this guy, talking all this stolen e-mail talk, which was part of what launched the probe, no one could find him?

PAPADOPOULOS:  No one can find him.  I wish I could find him just, you know, or I wish like something or just --

MELBER:  Do you wish you could find him or do you wish you never met him?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Of course, I wish I never met this person.  He basically, you know, tried to ruin my life or did ruin my life for a couple -- for the last couple of years.  I`m just now coming up for air.

MELBER:  So let me -- let`s go to a larger plane.


MELBER:  Mueller looked at this closely.  He found no chargeable collusion.


MELBER:  Why didn`t you tell the whole truth from the start?

PAPADOPOULOS:  That`s a great question.  And it was foolish and I want to make it clear that I`m not disavowing my guilty plea.  I served 11 nights in prison for that.  And obviously, my case is done with and the whole investigation is over.  So --

MELBER:  Are you trying to withdraw your guilty plea as some have said?

PAPADOPOULOS:  So my lawyers, my current legal team who`s -- Caroline Polisi who you know very well.

MELBER:  I`ve interviewed her, yes.

PAPADOPOULOS:  And you`ve interviewed her.  They`re looking into options.  I`m not a lawyer --

MELBER:  But you`re not trying tonight to withdraw your guilty plea?

PAPADOPOULOS:  They`re looking at options and it`s probably best to ask them that question because they are the legal team and they`re the legal minds who are looking at what`s in my best interest.

MELBER:  So let`s help us understand this because you cannot understand, the people watching see you as maybe having gotten caught up in something that was a lot bigger --

PAPADOPOULOS:  Definitely.

MELBER:  -- than what you realized at the start.

PAPADOPOULOS:  Absolutely.

MELBER:  And you pleaded guilty to a felony.


MELBER:  And they`re trying to understand if there was no chargeable collusion, why were people, including you, sir, lying about contacts with the Russians?  That mystery still seems to be here tonight.

PAPADOPOULOS:  Yes.  And let`s look at what I lied about.

MELBER:  Sure.

PAPADOPOULOS:  Because -- and this is all public record now.  I -- as I mentioned earlier, I told the FBI voluntarily this guy, Joseph Mifsud told me that the Russians possessed Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.  What did I plead guilty to?  The timing and the extent of my interactions with Joseph Mifsud as I detail in my book.

MELBER:  Yes.  Can I put it in plain English and you tell me if I have it right or not?


MELBER:  It seemed like you were trying to play down your Russian contacts to the FBI.  Is that right?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I was trying to play down what I thought were my Russian contacts at the time.

MELBER:  Understood.


MELBER:  SO you were trying to play it down.  Why?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Because I felt I guess I failed in that mission to connect Trump to Vladimir Putin.  I ended up successfully introducing Trump to the Egyptian president but -- so I was thinking to myself if the FBI is trying to talk to me about Russia conspiracy and the entire campaign and Trump, why would I get those guys involved when it was my mea culpa dealing with this person Mifsud.

No one else in the campaign met Mifsud.  They had nothing to do with him so I felt that the FBI was really trying to encompass the entire campaign in my mistake so that`s why I tried to distance myself.

MELBER:  And you told George Stephanopoulos -- I`m about to play him.  You told him that part of what you were motivated by was protecting Donald Trump.  Let`s take a look at that.



PAPADOPOULOS:  I found myself pinned between the Department of Justice and the sitting president and having probing questions that I thought might incriminate the sitting president.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:  You were trying to protect the president?



MELBER:  Here we are tonight with no chargeable collusion.  How does it protect the president to mislead the FBI about the contacts related to Russia?  Wouldn`t you have done a better job protecting him by telling the whole truth from the start?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Well, like I said, the president had nothing to do with my meetings with this person, Mifsud, or any of this -- these bizarre meetings I was having in London that I guess resulted in this crazy situation that we`ve been all living the last two years.

So, of course, when the FBI was asking me about others in the campaign or President Trump involved, you know -- it`s a confusing situation.

MELBER:  It`s confusing but let me press you on this.  I`m going to read from what Mueller said and what you admitted to.  This is what you admitted.


MELBER:  Deliberate repeated lies claiming 12 times the interactions with this professor occurred before you joined the Trump campaign, when they were after.  I want you to be honest with me tonight because a lot of people are interested in what you`re saying.  Was there any part of you that thought, maybe other people had done worse things related to Russia in the e-mails and that`s why had you to play this down at the time?

PAPADOPOULOS:  You know what -- and that`s a really good question.  And I`m actually going to bring the facts to the table right now.  In September of 2016, I had a meeting with an undercover FBI asset named Stefan Halper who actually asked me a similar question that you just did.

Before the FBI came to my house and he was asking me, this is all public, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" and every newspaper on the world has documented my interactions with Stefan Halper, the Cambridge professor in London who paid me $3,000 to understand my ties is real but then he started talking to me about Russian hacking

And he asked me flat out, is the Trump campaign colluding?  What do you guys know about the Russians hacking?  Is Trump involved?  Are you involved?  We`re playing 29 questions.

And I flat out categorically unequivocally tell this person I have no idea what the heck you`re talking about.  I have nothing to do with what you`re describing.  Neither does anyone on the campaign.  So if I had simply just followed that guideline to --

MELBER:  Yes.  But were you worried at the time that other people may have done something worse and that would explain --


MELBER:  -- the cover story you provided?

PAPADOPOULOS:  You know what, I really don`t think so.  Like I said, it was a chaotic interview.  We`re talking about a lot of different issues from, you know, the Steele dossier, Israelis, Russian interference, Maltese professors, the fake niece of Vladimir Putin, all around 9:00 in the morning in Chicago as I`m just getting out of the shower.

MELBER:  So look, so let me put it this way.  And I say this factually, I don`t mean this disrespectfully.


MELBER:  Do you understand why people watching this find this to be hard to believe you because during the probe you were downplaying all these Russian contacts.  Now, there`s no chargeable collusion and people are thinking why did you play it down?

PAPADOPOULOS: I tried to explain that.  I was trying to distance myself for my I guess stupid activities and I didn`t want to involve other people.

MELBER:  OK.  And that`s -- and that`s interesting.  That`s important for people to know, whether people agree or not with every aspect of you.  You`re taking I think some sort of responsibility at least tonight and start calling that stupid.  Do you put this discussion of special outreach to the Russian government during the campaign in that category? 

Because you have the Mifsud saying I`m going to introduce you to people, set up a meeting between Trump and Putin`s.  You say that`s an excellent idea.  Everyone remembers all the other ways that Donald Trump has proven to be quite close with the Putin government including briefing them on removing James Comey in a -- in a meeting that they wouldn`t even let White House press in, the famous picture.  Was that also a bad idea at the time?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I -- look, in fact before I joined the campaign, I actually was very hostile towards Russia in terms of just my work at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., some articles I`ve written, just conferences I`ve spoken at.  But at the end of the day, I had a boss Donald Trump who wanted to have some sort of working relationship with Russia.

So as I`m joining this campaign and as I described in the book, you know, everything seems so smooth and cool.  I`m in Rome --

MELBER:  You thought you could impress the people at that table by getting something going with Russia?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Absolutely.  And I`ve always been fully transparent about that even on the Stephanopoulos interview that you referenced earlier, and even in my book.  The campaign was fully aware of what I was doing.

I mean weeks before that meeting that you just saw that on the T.V., I was e-mailing the teams, (INAUDIBLE) hey, I got Putin`s niece here.  Hey, I just met the Russian ambassador.  Hey -- even though I never did.  I just met this guy Joseph Mifsud.  He`s going to be our go-between between Trump and Moscow.  Excellent work.  Keep it going.  So by the time I did go to that meeting that you saw in that picture, I was very confident.

MELBER:  Right.  Let`s go through a couple of quick things.  One, do you stand by your guilty plea?


MELBER:  Two, do you want to get a pardon from President Trump?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I am not asking one.  I know my lawyers have formally applied for one.  If I`m granted one, I would accept that.  It`s an honor.

MELBER:  You`re saying tonight your lawyers are asking for a pardon and I - you mentioned, I spoke with Miss Polisi, I`ll put up on the screen, she says tonight to THE BEAT we have made a pardon application well before conclusion of this probe.  So you are asking for a pardon from Donald Trump.

PAPADOPOULOS:  That`s what my lawyers are doing and they represent me.  Yes, that`s what we`re doing.

MELBER:  Do you think you`ll get one?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I don`t have an expectation for it.  I might have actually been very vocal that I have no expectation for it.  It doesn`t change my life at all quite frankly.  Whether I have it or not, probably from just a vindication standpoint it might help.

But the president, you know he`s the ultimate authority in this country.  He`s the executive -- head of the executive branch and he has the ultimate authority to pardon anybody he wants.  I`m sure he`s going to look at the facts.  He`s going to look at my congressional testimony.  He might even read my book.

And after he has all those facts in front of him, now that we know that there was absolutely no collusion, he`s going to make a decision.  And if he pardons me, that`s amazing.  If he doesn`t, that`s his decision.

MELBER:  37 people were charged in this probe.  Who do you think got the rawest deal between what they went through and what they did?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I think a lot of us got went through a lot.  I mean -- but I guess I could speak from my personal point of view and then I can maybe --

MELBER:  For example, did Manafort get what he deserved given all the crimes that he has pled guilty to that we`re occurring before 2016?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I mean, it goes -- I guess you can look at it two ways one is the special counsel was appointed to look into collusion first and foremost, but then he`s charging him and convicting Paul Manafort on various crimes such as far of violations which I was threatened to be charged with formally.  Then we have bank fraud, wire fraud, etcetera, etcetera.

So yes, those are illegal activities but what was the purpose of Bob Mueller pursuing those crimes and not collusion especially with somebody like Paul Manafort who he had real Russian ties.  I mean, he was lobbying Ukrainian oligarchs, close to the Russian government, yet he never found anything nefarious between Manafort and the Russian government.

MELBER:  Do you think Paul Manafort through the total of his conduct was disloyal to both Donald Trump and the United States?

PAPADOPOULOS:  If you break the law, you`re going to -- there`s going to be repercussions.  I don`t want to say he`s disloyal.  I don`t know him.

MELBER:  Who`s got the rawest deal?  You know, I`m asking because you were again, they called you coffee boy.  I would observe you were a lower-level aide who as you say it, as you write in your new book was trying to cooperate with the FBI a large part and you wound up in jail for those 12 days or 11 nights.  Do you think you got the rawest deal?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Quite frankly, you know, I`m just happy that this situation is done with.  It was 11 nights.  The thing that bothered me the most was not being with my wife quite frankly.  That was the most difficult part.

But then I also look at Paul Manafort who`s been in jail I think already for a year or so or close to a year and he`s looking at almost seven and a half eight years in prison at 70 years old.  And then you have Roger Stone looking at further crimes.  So I can`t compare who got a so-called raw deal or the rawest deal, but a lot of us have suffered.

MELBER:  Well, there is a difference -- there is a legal -- there is a legal difference between some of these so-called processed crimes and the underlying crimes.  Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort have both confessed and pled guilty to full substantive crimes you and some others have been caught up in what are called processing times.

And now with no chargeable collusion, the question is whether you think you or Roger Stone deserve a pardon.  You`re asking for one.  Do you think the president should pardon some of you including Stone?

PAPADOPOULOS:  As I said earlier, I have no expectation to be pardoned.  I`ve been asked this question many times and I have the same answers.  I have no expectation to be pardoned.  If I am offered a pardon, of course, I`m going to accept it because it`s an honor to be pardoned.

MELBER:  You view it as an honor?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I would view it as an honor because that`s the purpose of my book.  I think my book really is a -- corroborates what the conclusion of the Mueller probe was that there was no conclusion, yet there was something else going on, and that`s possibly why there might be a second investigation that looks into various other characters, maybe American officials maybe foreign officials, maybe FISA abuse.

I don`t know if I mentioned it earlier, but I was -- in this congressional testimony that was released earlier this year, I was only one of the four witnesses invited to testify in front of the Oversight Committee.  And you know who the other three names were, Jim Comey, Sally Yates, and Loretta Lynch.

So people were scratching their heads why would George Papadopoulos be involved with that group.  And when you read this Congressional testimony, you`ll see why.  And I guarantee you it`s going to probably open up new doors and potentially a new investigation that might lead into an entire new can of worms.

That`s what I believe.  I obviously don`t have a crystal ball to guarantee that`s going to happen, but I guess, we`ll just stay tuned and we`ll see.

MELBER:  Are you supporting the President`s re-election.

PAPADOPOULOS:  I am supporting President Trump.  I think he`s going to get reelected whether I support him or not.  I do support him overwhelmingly.  I think he`s doing a great job quite frankly.

MELBER:  You worked on the last campaign as an adviser, would you work on the next one?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Let`s see how America in the world kind of reacts to my story.  Let me make sure I`m vindicated first.  Let me support my wife first right now it was in L.A. pursuing her career, and then I`ll think of potentially advising a campaign in 2020 or even in the future or ever getting back into politics again.  I`m keeping that door open.  For now I`m focusing on other things.

MELBER:  Were you surprised by Mueller`s findings?  Were you worried that he would go farther than this and an indict on some sort of conspiracy?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I mean, unfortunately I know it`s going to probably bother a lot of people watching this, but I fully expected that there was going to be no collusion, that`s why I have this book out because I really had very, very hard suspicions that there was no there-there.

MELBER:  Well, that may not bother people in the sense that that means you also had faith that Bob Mueller would follow the facts wherever they led.

PAPADOPOULOS:  I wanted Bob Mueller to follow the facts wherever they led.  I had no issue with that.  Even when I was cooperating with Mueller, I gave him a full access to all my devices, let him do whatever he wanted.  I was an open book to this guy.  So I wasn`t trying to hinder him.

I don`t know why he was actually so harsh on me of my sentencing while with Michael Flynn he`s been so kind.  Something doesn`t add up in that situation.  I don`t know what I could have possibly done more than I already did.  But I`m glad Bob Mueller was not obstructed --

MELBER:  Flynn hasn`t been sentenced.  Do you expect that he`ll get no jail time?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Well, I think Mueller has recommended no jail time as far as I remember.  Actually, I was in -- I was in prison while I saw that recommendation.  And people were just like kind of nudging me, like oh -- you know, I was in the cafeteria.

MELBER:  And that`s the last question before we go.  What was it like for you in prison?  How were you treated by the other inmates?  You are not the traditional short term inmate.

PAPADOPOULOS:  It was Trump country, OK.  Oxford, Wisconsin a Trump country.  It`s a population of about 800 people.  I think the federal minimum security camp I was at was one of the major jobs that people had in Oxford, Wisconsin.  Quite frankly I was treated excellent.  I mean --

MELBER:  And you`re saying the other inmates were Trump supporters and viewed you through that lens?

PAPADOPOULOS:  Let`s add some street cred.  Meaning that by the time I got it there --

MELBER:  George, George --

PAPADOPOULOS:  By the time -- listen, I`m telling you.  By the time I got - - 

MELBER:  George, what kind of street cred did you have?

PAPADOPOULOS:  All right, all right, I mean, you know my lawyer, Caroline.  You know she`s a fighter.  So by the time I got in there, we were talking about withdrawing that guilty plea.  You know, she was on T.V., I was on T.V.  We were paused --

MELBER:  They saw you as a celebrity or as a fighter?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I don`t know.  I don`t consider myself a celebrity but they saw me --

MELBER:  A political celebrity.

PAPADOPOULOS:  They considered me as that and as a fighter.  And that counts first regress when you get into a place like that even though I was dealing with a lot of doctors, lawyers, you know, businessmen who were involved in similar crimes like Paul Manafort or for Michael Cohen.  So it wasn`t a dangerous place.

MELBER:  And did anything surprise you about it inside?

PAPADOPOULOS:  I was surprised that it was actually cleaner than my university dorm and that there was a softball stadium outside.  It was a little too cold for me to go play softball but that was the only thing really surprised me.  I was treated well and I got out, and right now we were actually filming a docu-series with my wife about our life post- Mueller, the path to prison, post-prison, and just focusing on our life right now in L.A.

So we`re having a great time and we`re just trying to move on and just get the truth out there.  Hopefully America you know believes my side.  And I`m not hoping they do or I`m not hoping they don`t, I just want them to look at the facts and then they can make up their own decision and the President himself can.  And I`m very grateful for your time on this show and let me do that here too as well.

MELBER:  Absolutely, George.  As you know, we`ve spoken to your lawyer and people around you in our reporting about this throughout the entire probe, and we talked about getting you on.  I`m glad we finally did hear now that the probe is over.  And I will mention, the book is Deep State Target.  George Papadopoulos, first time on MSNBC.  And we will be right back.

PAPADOPOULOS:  Thanks so much.

MELBER:  Thank you, George.


MELBER:  Let`s get right to it.  Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on the Justice Department issues here.  You`re on the Judiciary Committee, thanks for joining me tonight.

SEN. SHELDON WHITE HOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  Glad to be with you, Ari.

MELBER:  You and then-Attorney General Nominee talked obstruction at his hearing.  Let`s look at that.


WHITEHOUSE:  And it is not your intention to change --


WHITEHOUSE:  -- department policy or department standards, or department definitions particularly as they may bear on obstruction by the President or people around him?

BARR:  That`s right.

WHITEHOUSE:  Thank you.


MELBER:  You got a sort of commitment there.  Do you feel he`s honoring it?

WHITEHOUSE:  It`s hard to tell because of all the different charges that one could bring, you know, there are a lot that are a mixture of fact in law.  And an obstruction charge is about as fact heavy a proposition as we have.  So his letter said that most of the obstruction or potentially obstruction conduct has been public, but that implies obviously that there is some conduct that has not been known to the public.

And until you see the whole thing, it`s very hard to sort that through and apply it against the prosecution standards of the Department.

MELBER:  Let me give you the benefit of responding to the arguments that are coming from the White House.  The President`s lawyer Jay Sekulow is here.  Here`s what he said.  Take a look.


JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP:  The difference between Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr was they reported to judges and panels.  The special counsel reports to the Attorney General of the United States.  That`s different.  And then there`s 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.


MELBER:  What is your response to his argument that the rules Mueller is operating under allow Bill Barr to render this final judgment and make Congress less essential, in his view, to assessing potential obstruction?

WHITEHOUSE:  Well, they are different, obviously.  And Bob Mueller has conducted himself very differently than Starr and Kavanaugh did.  They ran a really public smear effort through their special counsel effort, whereas Bob Muller kept a very confidential private and professional effort going.

So there are a lot of differences but Barr remains accountable to the public on this.  And it is well within his discretion to hand over the report to Congress and he ought to do that.  I think the implication of all of these regulations is that ultimately -- particularly when you`re dealing with a public official who`s potentially subject to impeachment, that Congress will get a look at what took place.

And here with the public promises that Barr has made, we`re expecting that he`ll make a lot transparent and that he`ll be very cautious about dealing with the grand jury 6E rulings with the potential executive privilege protections and with the -- I guess uncharged person traditions of the department so that we get to see as much as possible and that the American people can see as much as possible.

MELBER:  And so on that, before I let you -- before I let you --

WHITEHOUSE:  The House will actually have to particularly rule around 6E so --

MELBER: Yes.  Well 6E grand jury -- before I let you go.  Do you view the letter that he sent over the weekend as satisfying the rules requirement that he explained to Congress these declination decisions?

WHITEHOUSE:  No.  And I don`t think he does either.  I think he thinks that this was an opening response to quiet a lot of very active speculation but knowing full well that he`d have to back it up with a very, very transparent release afterwards.  And we`re going to hold him to account for that.

MELBER:  Understood.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, thank you for joining us tonight.


MELBER:  Up ahead, the bizarre fallout from what George Papadopoulos told us, including how he and his wife met through a now missing Russian spy.


MELBER:  Convicted Trump adviser and Mueller witness George Papadopoulos made some news in his first appearance ever on MSNBC tonight telling us for one thing he`d be "honored to get a Trump pardon" and detailing his interactions with a mysterious professor Mifsud who`s an alleged Russian spy and is also the reason that George met his wife Simona.

Now, we just taped a separate joint interview with them and they say their interactions with the professor were "very weird."


SIMONA MAGIANTE, WIFE OF GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS:  Many coincidences.  I happen to finish working for Mifsud who is the one starting the Russia gate and then marry George Papadopoulos who was the one -- this are true.  Mifsud was a believer too, right?  And they do it in very specific moments.  I delivered to him.  I come to America --

MELBER:  You guys realize this is weird, right?

MAGIANTE:  It`s super weird.

MELBER:  It`s super weird, OK.


MELBER:  It`s super weird and there`s lot of other questions including about Papadopoulos` veracity.  We`re posting this entire interview right now.  It`s up at MSNBC`s YouTube channel.  You can go on our Instagram or  Facebook pages here as you see to find this digital exclusive.  And when we come back, one more thing from Eric Holder that you`ll only see right here.


MELBER:  Former Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder has worked on many different issues.  And tomorrow, we`re going to get in to many of them because we`re going to show you new exclusive footage from our interview that we did tape this week but we haven`t aired all of it including getting into immigration, why Eric Holder says America is not actually a democracy and only became one recently.  We even talk basketball.

So there`s a lot more we`re going to show you in my discussion with Eric Holder later on in the show including starting tomorrow.  We wanted to tell you about that. 

And that does it for me tonight.  I`ll see you back here 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.