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Pelosi unloads on AG Barr. TRANSCRIPT: 4/10/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Mara Gay, Jed Shugerman, Glenn Kirschner, Claire McCaskill, VanitaGupta, Chris Van Hollen

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Nothing but more of that, I promise.  So, subscribe to the Chuck Toddcast from MEET THE PRESS wherever you get your podcast.  And thank you for doing that and thank you for watching.  The newest episode is up right now.  So hurry up and get.

That`s all we have for today.  More MEET THE PRESS DAILY tomorrow.  "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER", my man, starts right now.  Hello, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Hello.  Good to see you.  And thank you, Chuck Todd.

We have a big show tonight.  Bill Barr facing the Senate today.  This was the first time he`s done that since Bob Mueller finished his probe.  Barr was on defense and under fire while the top Democrat who runs the party`s subpoena power takes a new shot here.

Speaker Pelosi making it plain tonight she doesn`t trust Barr saying he is not the attorney general of Trump.  He is the attorney general of the United States.  I don`t trust Barr.  I trust Mueller.  And basically comparing his work to a train wreck.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  A very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today.


MELBER:  Barr trying to turn attention to his comments on the lawful surveillance of some Trump linked aides today during that hearing.  That was apparently his rhetorical or strategic priority and it has gotten some attention.

But I would draw your attention here at the top of our broadcast to one of the more important substantive revelations in this hearing.  It came under cross-examination by Senator Van Hollen pressing Barr on his own choice to release his own view of his findings on obstruction of justice when Mueller pointedly had not exonerated Trump.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:  I am going to explain my decision and to the extent that requires an assessment of the Mueller report.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD):  Did your decision -- did your decision require you to look into the intent of the president of the United States with respect to obstruction of justice?

BARR:  I`m not going to discuss my decision.  I will lay it out after the report is out.

HOLLEN:  Mr. Attorney General, the thing is, you put this out there.  I mean the president went out and tweeted the next day that he was exonerated.  That was not based on anything in the Mueller report with respect to obstruction of justice.  That was based on your assessment.  That was on March 24.  And now you won`t elaborate at all as to how you reached that conclusion.

BARR:  I will discuss that decision after the report --

HOLLEN:  Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR:  I don`t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.


MELBER:  I don`t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion is another way of saying he didn`t support my conclusion to my knowledge.  Obviously, if he did, that`s the kind of thing Barr would want to put out there.

You saw that exchange there.  It was Senator Van Hollen putting the pressure on Barr.  He joins me later in this show.

But I begin right now with our panel.  Mara Gay, an editorial board member from "The New York Times".  And Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham, a co-author on the amicus brief in CREW v. Trump.  Good evening to both of you.



MELBER:  What did we learn from Bill Barr`s testimony?

SHUGERMAN:  Well, we did not learn a ton.  I mean he is evasive.  So I would say what we`re learning is that he doesn`t exactly want to share anything until the report is out which is a very different strategy when he had wrote a letter on Sunday where he was very eager to share his version.

So I think what we have to look back at is whether Barr has learned something already, right.  Whether he rushed to get a letter out on the Friday -- on the Sunday after the report was dropped.  He rushed to get a letter out with his spin on it, did not share the executive summaries.

Since then, Mueller`s team has fired a shot across the bow.  They`ve come out to "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," and said they wrote executive summaries and summaries of various sections and they were calling out Barr.  We will now see.

And then Barr wrote a second letter on the Friday after which showed he was walking things back.  We will learn when the report is issued in a week whether he has learned from this shot across the bow that he has to worry about Mueller calling him out again.

MELBER:  Right.  Learning implying that he might have some process whereby he wants to change the outcome.  The other possibility is that he is very stuck on his goal, which is the, creating the appearance of the exoneration.

And then he is sort of doing a classic Aaliyah.  If at first, you don`t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.

GAY:  Try again.

SHUGERMAN:  Try again.

MELBER:  Try again.

GAY:  That`s right.  My concern here is that you look at Barr`s testimony and you continually think to yourself, how is this the person who decides what the American public sees and whether the president gets to tweet that he`s been exonerated.

And the fact that this decision was ultimately punted for whatever reason by Mueller, and then left to this political appointee, really gives Americans little faith that the process is unfolding, as we had hoped it would.  And as I think, frankly, the country really needs it to unfold in order to really address whatever needs to be addressed and move on as one country I think --

MELBER:  Well, isn`t it Barr`s narrative to claim that somehow this was left up to him?  I mean, Jed, as you know, the rules which our viewers have heard, the author of those rules Neal Katyal discussed, don`t at all require a multi-hundred-page report.

It seems to me that in the short run. Barr is doing P.R. but in the long run, Mueller by writing such a lengthy exhaustive report has put a tremendous amount of pressure --

SHUGERMAN:  That`s right.

MELBER:  -- within the rules.  Not outside, within the rules for something sooner or later to come out.

SHUGERMAN:  That`s right.  And the other way that things come out is by subpoena and by litigation.  I think this is where we`re heading.  I mean we are -- Barr has sent signals that he`s going to redact a significant amount.

This whole color coding thing, that sounded very odd, right.  That he has these different reasons for redacting certain parts, non-disparagement of people who are not indicted and protecting grand jury information, that he hasn`t -- keep in mind, he could go to a grand jury and request to release it and --

MELBER:  Have you ever seen a multicolored legal document redaction?

SHUGERMAN:  No, I have not.

MELBER:  So the thing about THE BEAT, as I think Mara knows, is sometimes when we`re trying to be funny, we`re not, and that`s on me.  But other times, when we`re trying to just deal with serious news, it gets a little funny.  I mean that`s not a joke.

This is the attorney general of the United States who sort of just comes out and says, "By the way, we`re just going to have different colors for different types of redactions" which has never been done before and lawyers are usually more interested in precedent.

GAY:  That`s interesting.  I mean as a journalist, part of our job is to get public information to the public.  And so that requires a lot of freedom of information requests, you`re constantly trying to get information out of government that you believe the public has a right to see and to know.

And he`s acting -- Barr is acting as though this is normal, as though this is kind of the ordinary course of events and it`s not.  And I just hope that the American people really understand that this is not business as usual.  He seems to be kind of making the rules up as he goes along.

MELBER:  Well, and the strategic reason for him to use the colors, Jed, would be that there are -- not all redactions are created equal.  If he can prove that say the bulk or majority of his redactions according to the Justice Department are grand jury, that allows him to argue, even if it is over-inclusive and overdone, look, these are serious ones.

Whereas I can`t imagine that you would come on this system and then do, I don`t know, lime green for peripheral reputation interests, and then have it be just a big green folder because that would make him look worse.

SHUGERMAN:  Yes.  But he also has to anticipate that this is going, regardless of what color he chooses, judges will get a chance to look at this or will -- there`ll be litigation to look at how valid these redactions are.

A similar process happened with Nixon versus the United States over the Oval Office recordings.  There was a process to check whether there was executive privilege or these other rationales were valid.  And ultimately, that took five months but Barr has to realize that there are several ways his redactions are not the last word.

MELBER:  Right.

SHUGERMAN:  Litigation, Mueller being called to testify himself, and other witnesses.  They will be in front of Congress to be unredacted and give their version of these events.

MELBER:  And this brings us to -- I want to bring in former Federal Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner.  Glenn, take a listen to the exchange today where we again saw Barr trying to invoke or hog Mueller`s credibility without committing to follow what Mueller`s team decides.  Take a look on redactions.


HOLLEN:  And you`re not going to overrule the special counsel`s judgment with respect to any of the categories, right?

BARR:  I haven`t.

HOLLEN:  And you -- but can you tell us you will not?

BARR:  Well, if an issue comes up, I don`t want to prejudge it but that`s not my intention.  My intention is to allow the team to make the redactions.


MELBER:  Glenn?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes, Ari, it really seems like what Barr is trying to do by selectively answering questions, he is creating this fog of exoneration where he is answering questions that seem to potentially be helpful to the president, declining to answer questions that may hurt the president.  Like, well, has anybody in the White House reviewed this report?

And I tell you, I found really problematic that one clip that you played earlier where they`re asking Barr, well, does Bob Mueller agree with you, exonerating the president on obstruction of justice, and Barr says, "I don`t know."  And then he follows up with, "Well, I didn`t even bother to ask him."

Ari, Bob Mueller was not only the director of the FBI.  He was the acting U.S. attorney in Massachusetts and the U.S. attorney in San Francisco.  He was the chief of the entire Homicide Practice at the D.C. U.S. Attorney`s Office.  The man knows how to make a prosecutorial decision and left to his own devices, he always will.

You have to wonder what kind of a shell game Barr is playing.  And now, we`re going to get the color redactions, as you all were just referencing and it`s going to go from a fog of exoneration to what?  A rainbow of obfuscation?  The whole thing I think Jed --

MELBER:  Well, I think what you`re gesturing towards is the type of colored smoke you see at some rock shows, some punk shows.  They have colored smoke machines.


MELBER:  That seems to be where you`re going if it`s a fog of rainbow redactions.

KIRSCHNER:  Yes, and designs to not have you pay attention to the fact that the rock act is really over the hill and not all that entertaining anymore.


KIRSCHNER:  I think that Jed put his finger on it though, is this --

MELBER:  Although, don`t be ageists.  Some of my favorite acts are -- have been touring a long time but I take your point.  Final thought, Glenn.

KIRSCHNER:  So final thought, I think Jed is right.  Is this a game of delay where Barr is going to force this into the court`s fight, tooth and nail over every redaction and maybe push this closer and closer to 2020?

MELBER:  I think that`s the question that`s hanging over all of this.  And anyone who was giving Barr more the benefit of the doubt earlier on are saying, wow, this was complicated with the letters, is now seeing with the way he testified today that he basically wanted people to believe.

And I don`t think you need to be a congressional expert or a legal expert to see the fallacy.  He wanted people to believe that the only thing he could really say was the really good news that he cherry-picked for his boss, the president, and nothing else could possibly be said in a lawful oversight hearing with the Congress.

How long that`s going to last is going to be in the inner branch fight.  And as you three have all said, it`s going to depend potentially on whether this goes to court.  Mara, Jed, and Glenn, my special thanks.

Coming up, I`m going to speak to the lawmaker you just saw on your screen grilling Donald Trump`s attorney general.  Senator Van Hollen is here on THE BEAT.

And I have a special report on the most powerful Republican in Congress.  Because if there are things you`re concerned about in the Trump era, you have to be concerned about who is enabling them, Mitch McConnell.

Later, the fallout from Trump`s selection of who he wants to be number two, replacing Rosenstein in the Justice Department.  Today refusing to say under oath whether or not he thinks the ruling that ended segregation in American schools was correct.  It`s an important story.  We have that in the show as well tonight.

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


MELBER:  Now, to my special report for you tonight.  President Trump has seen some setbacks in several fights with Congress.  Majorities overruling him on the war in Yemen and trying to declare national emergency at the border.

And there`s new attention on the republican with the most power to potentially constrain President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  There is even a D.C. narrative arguing that McConnell`s standing up to Trump on certain issues.  Now, like many D.C. narratives, be a little wary of the premise here.


JOHN KING, ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS:  The Majority Leader Mitch McConnell go only to the floor to praise Kirstjen Nielsen.  He didn`t criticize the president but that`s implicit.

JEFF GLOR, ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS:  The president renewed his threat to close the southern border today.  That was met with a sharp response by the Senate`s top Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mitch McConnell urged the president to go slow.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, THE 11TH HOUR:  This rattled a lot of Republicans this week with the president raising health care again.

RICK WILSON, VETERAN REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I`ll tell you who today said a very clear signal to the White House was Mitch McConnell who is smarter than the average bear on this matter.  He just dropped that rock as fast as he could.  This will go nowhere.


MELBER:  The emerging claim here is that McConnell may be some kind of check on Trump`s impulses, one that we`re also reporting today.  Now, McConnell softly rallying Republicans to push back on Trump`s interest in putting Herman Cain on the Federal Reserve.

But I want to be very clear tonight.  Those are exceptions to what McConnell is actually doing the vast majority of the time, working as a relentless enabler and enforcer of the Trump agenda, a choice that he didn`t have to make.

He leads a co-equal branch of government.  He has far more experience within the GOP than Trump and this is a choice that shows that McConnell is a key driver for how Trumpism has taken control of the entire Republican Party.

Now, we know many top elected Republicans don`t really genuinely support everything Trump does because in 2016, so many, from Paul Ryan to Ted Cruz, were fighting to stop Trump and they argued at times he was the antithesis of their values.

But on virtually every key issue for Trump, McConnell gets his back.  Take the current battle to try to obtain Donald Trump`s tax returns.  McConnell took Trump`s call to prioritize confirming a counsel at the IRS to support Trump.  That`s an unusual post for any president to even be personally interested in.

Or take that recent and rare rebuke of Trump by some Senate Republicans on the war in Yemen.  It was bipartisan but only despite McConnell`s effort to stop the vote against Trump or take the tax cuts which could extend balloon the deficit.  McConnell was all about them.

Or take this longest government shutdown in history when McConnell obstructs the votes that could have passed the budget that there was agreement for, even though McConnell also warned Trump that he would be boxed in a canyon, meaning he also thought apparently it was a bad idea.

Then you have McConnell`s aggressive use of his Senate powers to expand Trump`s impact on the federal courts for a generation.  Now, remember, when Obama was president, McConnell fought against changing the Senate rules, only to ram through Obama`s judicial nominees.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate.  Well, if this majority leader caves to the fringes and lets this happen, I`m afraid that`s exactly what they`ll write.  Because in his own words, on the Senate, the majority leader`s own words, breaking the rules to change the rules is unAmerican.


MELBER:  UnAmerican.  That was then.  Now, McConnell leading the change to the rules this month to ram through more Trump judges.  In fact, McConnell`s gotten 66 of Trump judges confirmed, 2018 alone which has drawn much concern from some Senate Democrats.


CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  This is a very sad day for the Senate.  It`s crucial those rules not be twisted or abused for partisan advantage.  The majority by taking yet another step to erode that legacy risks turning this body into a coliseum of zero-sum infighting.


MELBER:  Democrats also pointing McConnell`s Supreme Court power grab.  He wouldn`t even hold a hearing or a vote on President Obama`s nominee Merrick Garland   The news of Justice Scalia`s death was still sinking in and across America.  The funeral hadn`t even been held when McConnell joined Republican presidential candidates in a rush to announce they would not even consider the president`s as-yet-unnamed nominee.


MELBER:  We are here witnessing this news, a seismic and unexpected event in the Supreme Court.  Justice Antonin Scalia on the court for 30 years passing away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tonight, the top Republican Mitch McConnell says this court vacancy should not be filled until a new president is elected.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:  There is nothing about having a year left in office that precludes President Obama from replacing Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court.


MELBER:  Plenty of people thought that kind of hardball was a reach.  Republican elders were bracing for Trump to lose but Trump did win the electoral college and it as McConnell`s attack on those Democratic traditions that effectively doubled the number of high court vacancies that this President Trump has already gotten to fill.

And McConnell`s support for Trump`s conduct goes well beyond tactics in conservative policy.  This is important.  He`s personally blocked bills that might hold Trump accountable or harm his standing.  He stood by Trump during attacks on the foreign countries like Haiti and their citizens.

And when President Trump said to his great shame that there were good people in that crowd of white supremacists amidst the violence in Charlottesville, Senator McConnell couldn`t step up to address Trump`s comment by name.  Instead offering only his view that there were "in general no good neo-Nazis."

So contrast this quailing inability to confront Donald Trump to an older throwback McConnell who even once touted his old boss and mentor, Senator John Cooper for backing a Civil Rights Bill despite opposition in the south.  Take a look.


MCCONNELL:  The correspondence into the office was overwhelmingly against the Civil Rights Bill.  And I remember asking the senator, why are you over on the floor leading the charge?  And he gave me an answer which is essentially that you don`t simply wet your finger and figure out which way the wind is blowing before deciding what to do.  In other words, they send you here to lead.  And ultimately, if they don`t like the way you do that, they can defeat you.


MELBER:  That high mightiness could look a little rich now and consider that when Democrats in the Obama era wanted to vote to reauthorize the Civil Rights Act, McConnell announced that that was unnecessary and saying the Voting Rights Act was essentially intact so he wouldn`t hold a vote.

My, how things shift.  Now, when McConnell is pressed on some of the above or the way Trump governs, he does fall back on something.  You may have heard this.  It is something that many Republican who used to voice opposition that Trump talk about, it is an indication of America`s institutions in general which might be a check on Donald Trump in the White House.


MCCONNELL:  I think in a day when people are voting for change, they didn`t decide they wanted to change the Republican Senate, which I`m proud of.

Everybody looks at last year`s election and says it was a changed election.  Well, it was in the presidential race but in the Senate race, it was not a changed election.


MELBER:  He touted the Senate`s victory there and then he talked about institutions that protect America`s balance of powers.  But what McConnell seems to forget or elide or maybe just blatantly deny is he leads one of the most critical institutions to guard against those kind of problems, the upper House are the co-equal branch of the federal government.

Now, what you saw there was right after Trump`s election.  Over two years in, we know McConnell`s virtually always sided with Trump over the institution he leads.  Now, there are plenty of politicos or cynics who may shrug all of this and say, well, of course, Ari, politics is a team sport.  People are loyal to their party, what`s new?

And yes, that`s true for certainly a lot of people and a lot of politicians.  But on the big things, I want to tell you tonight, it`s not always this way.  When you look at civil rights, or Charlottesville, or matters of foreign policy, you don`t have to go back that far.

As I just showed you, it was in McConnell`s lifetime recounting story of senators standing up for civil rights against party.  It was also in McConnell`s lifetime that politicians from the institution he leads, the U.S. Senate, stood up to an incumbent Democratic president in their own party on a matter of principle.  It was Lyndon B. Johnson`s fellow Democrats like Eugene McCarthy who took him on over something bigger than partisanship, over doing the right thing in Vietnam.


EUGENE MCCARTHY:  We must undertake at all times, so far as we can, not to do the wrong thing for the right reason.  So here we are in the process of carrying out a Republican foreign policy.  The administration talks about bipartisan support but it`s not Republican support for a Democratic policy.  They`re asking for Democratic support for a Republican policy.


MELBER:  That was how Democrats explain standing up to a president they thought was doing something wrong regardless of sharing the part.  Now, we are long ways from that.  I certainly admit that.

Now, no one can read Senator McConnell`s mind to be fair.  We don`t even know if he does feel any particular opposition to certain things Trump is doing.

We can read the polls though, a rough comparison showing that nationally, Democratic parties favored about half the country.  Donald Trump comes in about 39 percent.  McConnell in his home state sits even lower at a 33 percent approval rating.

So despite all his experience and power and strategy, Senator McConnell is less popular than Trump nationally and far less popular than him in Kentucky and they`re both up for re-election in 2020, which means, yes, Senator McConnell`s career may turn far more on this president than on other people, and other popular Republicans may not be as nervous as he is.

So we know that Mitch McConnell used to recount the lessons of using power to do what`s right and risk defeat when it`s worth it.  He may have reversed on that old advise and now focused on doing whatever it takes for him to avoid defeat.


MCCONNELL:  You don`t simply wet your finger and figure out which way the wind is blowing before deciding what to do.  In other words, they send you here to lead.  And ultimately, if they don`t like the way you do that, they can defeat you.

MELBER:  They send you here to lead.  I am joined in 30 seconds by a former colleague, Senator McCaskill when we come back.


MELBER:  Joining me now is former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri making her debut appearance on THE BEAT.

Senator McCaskill, you`ve gotten into it with Mitch McConnell at times.  Let`s take a look.


CLAIRE MCCASKILL, FORMER SENATOR, MISSOURI:  I am stunned that that is what Leader McConnell would call regular order.  I ask unanimous consent.

MCCONNELL:  I`m going to object for tonight but we`ll discuss again tomorrow.

MCCASKILL:  The United States Senate is no longer the world`s greatest deliberative body and everybody needs to quit saying it.  Until we recover from this period of polarization, and the fear of the political consequences of tough votes.


MELBER:  What have you learned about Senator McConnell?

MCCASKILL:  Mitch McConnell cares about one thing.  That is being the majority leader of the Senate.  He sought the power.  He`s been in the Senate for over three decades.

What he always wanted to be was a senator and what he always wanted to be was the leader and he will do anything, including frankly, seed power to the executive branch, wreak havoc in the judicial branch.  Whatever it takes to hold on to power which means every decision he makes is through a political prism for the Republican members of his caucus.

The only times he`s really stood up to Donald Trump is when he thought it was hurting his members, when he thought it was going to hurt their re- election chances.  It wasn`t because he had some fundamental ideological difference with the president.  It is all politics.

I mean, Ari, when I first came to the Senate, the first year I was in the Senate and I was in the Senate 12 years I voted on 306 amendments on the floor of the Senate.  The last year I was in the Senate, I voted on fewer than 40.

There is no longer an opportunity for senators to debate amendments and vote on amendments.  Mitch McConnell, the only bill that Mitch McConnell can say that he has passed of note since he has been in charge really is the tax bill that was written in his office.  The lobbyists on K Street knew what was in the manage of package before the Democratic members of the Finance Committee knew.

No one had input in that bill other than Mitch McConnell`s tight circle that he said, go write the bill and then we`ll drop it on the floor and we`ll ram it through.

And think about the consequences of that tax bill.  That`s the only thing he`s gotten done and he didn`t do it the old-fashioned way where you had committee hearings and debate and amendments. He did -- he ran through what he thought was important.

MELBER:  Let me read something that you posted about this because there is also this tradition of some sort of collegiality but then the question of how many times do people want to get hit in the face politically.  You posted you were sad that your dinner to say goodbye to senators that are leaving was not bipartisan.  If we can`t be together to even recognize those who are leaving, what hope is there for this place?  Why didn`t it happen?  Two words, Mitch McConnell.

It is popular as you know in Washington to talk about both sides, partisan breakdown.  Why are you so convinced and what can you do to prove that this is explicitly McConnell and not just a back and forth?

MCCASKILL:  The first year we did not have this dinner together was because Mitch McConnell didn`t want to.  And so he`s the one who made the decision.  I think there have been efforts to try to pull the caucuses together.  You keep it -- keep in mind the way the Senate works.  What Mitch has to do is he has to keep his guys together.

So he wants to control the information they get.  He wants to make sure they`re getting his version so he can keep everybody in the corral.  And you know, Bob Corker and I used to talk back and forth.  Wouldn`t it be interesting for each caucus to listen to the other caucus on what was being said because I`m sure --

MELBER:  You`re like two constitutional founders.

MCCASKILL:  Yes.  I mean, really.  And I think that he didn`t really want there to be any opportunity for there to be this bipartisan collegiality that might lead to a crack in his caucus.  I mean, he already has to deal with people who have strong independence like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, but the vast majority of his caucus he`s been able to keep together even when they know the President, this president is dead wrong.

MELBER:  I mentioned in our -- in our reporting here the history of Vietnam as a time when Democrats stepped up to Democrats.  Foreign policy for many obvious reasons including the risk of American lives is one of those areas.  You look at the Russian issue which at times has been so partisan.  Here was Mitch McConnell and criticism of him regarding blocking action to deal with Russia as an adversary, separate from any outcome of the Mueller probe one way or the other as you know.  Take a look.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES:  Mitch McConnell wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say essentially Russia`s doing this, stop.  The die have been cast here.  This was all about the political play.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE:  It took over three weeks to get that statement worked out.  It was dramatically watered down.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  And it was watered down on the insistence of Mitch McConnell?


TODD:  And nobody else?



MELBER:  When you look at that as a U.S. Senator, someone who represents all constituents as an American, not as a Democrat, do you think that is to the shame of his historical legacy?

MCCASKILL:  I think he`s going to have a lot of shame in his historical legacy.  Ironically he thinks what he did with the Merrick Garland nomination will make him be a glowing report in history because he did that, they elected a Republican President.  That argument can be made that there were a lot of Evangelicals that did not like Donald Trump and his personal habits but he gave him the list of who he was going to appoint to the Supreme Court and they cared very much about that.

So he really takes credit.  And think of what he`s taking credit for.  He`s taking credit for totally destroying the Constitution.  Because the Constitution doesn`t say that we nominate someone -- the president nominates someone to the Supreme Court when it`s not an election year.  These guys love to be strict constructionists right, until they don`t, and then they ignore the Constitution.

So he`s -- I think history will not be kind to Mitch McConnell, what he`s done to the Senate, what he`s done to the judiciary and the power he is seated to the executive branch.

MELBER:  Senator McCaskill, given your experience here and your forthrightness and your candor, it was such a great treat to have you as a guest on this very topic.  I hope you`ll come back on THE BEAT.

MCCASKILL:  Absolutely.  My pleasure.

MELBER:  All right, thank you, Senator.  Up ahead, Donald Trump has a nominee to replace Rod Rosenstein who just said Brown v Board may or may not have been right.  He won`t commit.  That`s an important story we`re going to bring you.  Later, a senator who forced key answers out of Bill Barr today, Senator Chris Van Hollen on THE BEAT tonight.


MELBER:  Breaking news on civil rights in the Trump Justice Department, Donald Trump`s pending nominee to be the number-two Deputy Attorney General at DOJ who would replace fraud Rosenstein was that a confirmation hearing today and refused to answer whether or not he agrees with the landmark Supreme Court rulings of Roe v Wade which of course establishes the right to choice and one of the greatest canonical rulings of all time Brown v Board which formally ended racial racist segregation in American schools.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Was Brown versus Board of Education correctly decided?

JEFFREY ROSEN, NOMINEE, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  Senator, I don`t think that it would be a productive exercise for me to go through the most thousands of Supreme Court opinions and say which ones are right and which ones are wrong.

BLUMENTHAL:  These are pretty simple questions.  They`re answerable by yes or no.  Most lawyers I suspect would agree based on knowledge of the law that these two cases, pillars of our jurisprudence were correctly decided by the United States Supreme Court.

ROSEN:  I have views about lots of Supreme Court cases but I`m not being nominated for this position to be the Solicitor General nor a judge and I think in this context -- the point I`m trying to make is that whatever the law is, whether it`s the decision I would favor or disfavor, I see it as the role the Department of Justice to uphold the law such as it is unless Congress or the courts change it.

BLUMENTHAL:  You are in charge with the arguments that are made to the Supreme Court.  You would be in a position to suggest that the Solicitor General argue that Roe v Wade should be overruled, that`s why I`m asking you this question, same with Brown versus Board of Education.  We`re entitled to know your personal views.


MELBER:  An important moment at that hearing.  I am joined by phone by Vanita Gupta who ran the Justice Department`s Civil Rights Division under the Obama administration.  I`m also joined by former Federal Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner who can speak to some of these issues.  Vanita, your view of what we just heard.

VANITA GUPTA, FORMER ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  It`s totally unacceptable.  Brown versus Board of Education is one of the most consequential cases in our nation`s history.  It ended legal apartheid and racism in the law in this country.  It`s a settled law.  It has been since 1954.  And there`s simply no reason why any nominee to any position in our government should be unwilling to say that.

You know, in my mind if you can`t agree that Brown versus Board of Education was correctly decided, you don`t belong in the Justice Department either as a lion attorney or as a Deputy Attorney General.  One of the primary roles of the Justice Department`s to protect civil rights and if any nominee is unwilling to accept that bedrock settled civil rights laws, and they just shouldn`t have the job.

MELBER:  And when you look at the argument made that basically, this nominee doesn`t want to be drawn out under oath on every case out there, what is your response to that?  What makes this case so obviously different, I guess?

GUPTA:  I mean, as you said this is a canonical case in our nation`s history.  And the question is, does Rosen really believe that the legality of the jury racial discrimination is going to come up during his tenure as a Deputy Attorney General?

You know, to me this begs the question of like what does it mean for the Justice Department`s really crucial role in enforcing civil rights that he isn`t willing to commit unequivocally to the fact that this canonical case that ended legal apartheid in our country was correctly decided.

You even had justices nominees, Justice Gorsuch had said that Brown versus Board of Education was a seminal decision that got the original understanding of the 14th Amendment right.  I mean even Brett Kavanaugh for Pete`s sake said that it was one of the most important -- the single greatest moment in Supreme Court history.

And so this is a guy who is running -- who has been nominated to be the number two in the Justice Department overseeing civil rights enforcement and much more and I just think it`s unacceptable.

MELBER:  Glenn, I wonder your view of this and if you have a question for Vanita who obviously has been so central on really the intersection here, how a Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General deal with civil rights and the Civil Rights Division at DOJ.

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  You know, Ari, we`re used to judicial nominees dodging questions about cases that may come before them in the future.  But this is going to be potentially if confirmed one of the top law enforcement officers in the country, the Deputy Attorney General.

And for him to even sort of leave a little bit of daylight for the notion that Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case that said separate but equal, government-sanctioned racial segregation is OK maybe it`s still in play because Brown versus Board of Education which we all thought put a nail in the coffin of Plessy versus Ferguson`s horrific separate-but-equal doctrine, what kind of a signal does that send to have somebody like this be involved in weighty decisions concerning the sort of the fairness and the equality with which our laws are carried out?

But I appreciate you letting me ask Vinita a question.  So Vanita when you were heading up the civil rights practice in the Department of Justice, if you saw somebody come in like this, the number two person in the Department of Justice with this mindset, how do you think that would have impacted the morale of the many, many attorneys that you supervise who were working our country`s civil rights cases?

GUPTA:  Look, their morale in the Civil Rights Division unfortunately is really low at the moment.  Jeff Sessions didn`t do much to help morale and had done so much too already got civil rights enforcement in the division.  But this kind of thing is -- it`s bigger.  It is really signaling to the country the degree to which these kinds of reactions and non-statements are becoming acceptable in our government officials.

And you know we had Charlottesville and all of us had to reckon with seeing a president refused to unequivocally denounce white supremacist, many of whom had been marching in his name.  But to now have increasingly you know, judicial nominee after judicial nominee and now in the executive branch to have somebody who is tasked with overseeing the enforcement of civil rights laws, try to be smart and coy with a one of maybe the most foundational decision to our democracy, you know, it is it is deeply -- it`s just unacceptable and it`s deeply demoralizing.

And I`m sure that the lawyers in the Civil Rights Division you know, are asking themselves what is the justice part of the Justice Department mean to have a nominee actually you know, give that kind of testimony today.

MELBER:  And this --

GUPTA:  Remember, he also refused to say whether birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14TH Amendment.  You know, there were a few other kind of tidbits from today`s testimony that should shock the conscience.

MELBER:  Right.  And this is where the rubber hits the road.  I mean, we heard in the -- in the hearing the Senator is saying look, this is the person who`s going to oversee the decisions are made about what is defended at the Supreme Court.

The President can tweet, the President speaks in all sorts of ways but line by line, case by case the human rights of American citizens, a lot of this is taken out at the level of what`s really wanted in the Trump administration which is why we wanted to cover that moment, the votes obviously is still pending and Vanita Gupta, so experienced on this, thanks for hopping on the phone with us on this.

GUPTA:  Thank you for talking about it.  Thank you.

MELBER:  Thank you.  Glenn stays with me because I have breaking news in our hour as sometimes happens.  Glenn, I want you to speak to me about something right up your alley as a legal issue.  I`m holding a brand new letter from the Trump Department of Treasury that just hit the wires.  They are trying to buy time punting on the requests for Donald Trump`s tax returns, an issue that obviously has dogged Donald Trump`s candidacy from the moment he announced the president.

Reading from the letter here to Chairman Neal who under the federal law can personally request that returns without a wider vote, Secretary Mnuchin says, I write in response to April 3rd letter.  The committee requests these materials by April 10th.  The Treasury Department "will not be able to complete its review of your request by that date."

And it goes on, Glenn, to outline why this is an allegedly extraordinary request by for time and potentially I suppose, set up what might be a big legal clash.  Your view of this next step in this in this fight.

KIRSCHNER:  You know, is there any evidence that they`re not willing to suppress, Ari.  The statute couldn`t be clearer.  It says that if the Chairman of the House and Ways -- the House Ways and Means Committee in writing makes a request for the tax return of any person, that would include the president it must be given over.  This seems to be nothing more than another delay tactic.

You know, all the people are looking for, all the Congress is looking for is information, truthful information, accurate information.  What`s in the president`s tax returns?  What`s in the Mueller report?  What are the facts that will guide our decisions?

You know, we have Attorney General Barr saying don`t worry about the facts.  Trust me.  Let me go ahead and jump out and exonerate the president on as many fronts as I can without sharing any of the evidence with the American people or with the Congress.  And here we go again with the same thing happening now in the tax front.

MELBER:  And interestingly -- and interestingly this letter which is just breaking, it`s not a hard no either.  It`s a sort of a step in what they may know is better off buying for time if they`re worried about their legal posture or they want more time to guard it.  Glenn Kirchner on multiple stories tonight on THE BEAT, thank you for joining me.

KIRSCHNER:  Thanks, Ari.  Attorney General Barr was forced today to answer a key question on obstruction and what Mueller was involved with Senator Van Hollen was putting him on the stand and we get him and his view of what he learned next.


MELBER:  Attorney General Bill Barr on defense today under fire from Democrats on the Hill demanding all kinds of answers.  Senator Chris Van Hollen joins me momentarily and he cross-examined Barr pushing on the obstruction of justice issues and got quite a newsworthy answer today.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD):  You looked at the evidence to the report and you made a decision.  And you said that the president`s not guilty of criminal obstruction of justice.  I`m asking you in your review of the report, did you agree with Mueller that there were difficult issues of law and fact?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  I`m going to give my reaction and comments you know, about the report after the report.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, it would have been -- but you put your view of the report out there on this issue of obstruction justice, right nobody asked you to do that.

BARR:  I didn`t put my view of the report.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, you put your assessment on you made a conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice that was not contained in the Mueller report.

BARR:  I will discuss that decision after the report.

VAN HOLLEN:  Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR:  I don`t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.


MELBER:  Senator, what is important in your view about that admission there that it was strictly Barr and not Mueller on obstruction?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, Ari, if Attorney General Barr had any credible -- credibility left as an independent administrator of justice and the facts, he lost it today.  Because he refused to testify as to how he reached his conclusion which of course preempted what was already in the report from Mueller which is that there was evidence that the president obstructed justice, just not enough to find it beyond a reasonable doubt.

And clearly, as Barr testified, he didn`t -- he didn`t consult with Mueller on that question because it`s clear that Mueller has not endorsed in any way bars conclusions to try to exonerate the president.

MELBER:  So in your view in plain English, are you concerned that Barr may have reached that position defending Donald Trump effectively before or even without the full report?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, what it -- what it tells me is that he just sort of hearkened back to the memo he wrote last year where he essentially found that presidents who were not guilty of the underlying crime in this case criminal collusion could not, therefore, be guilty of obstruction of justice which is just nonsense.  There are lots of scenarios where a president could still be guilty of obstructing justice.

So he clearly, he Barr went into this with preconceived notions and you know, that`s not doing the job of an independent fact-finder.

MELBER:  Senator, you also had an exchange on redactions.  Take a look.


VAN HOLLEN:  Can you assure us that the key factual evidence in the Mueller report related to charges of obstruction of justice will be available in the public report?

BARR:  I believe it will.

VAN HOLLEN:  My understanding from your house testimony was you`re allowing the Mueller team to make the redactions in three of the four areas you mentioned, all of them except for intelligence.

You`re not going to overrule this special counsel`s judgment with respect to any of those categories right?

BARR:  I haven`t.

VAN HOLLEN:  And you -- can you tell us you will not?

BARR:  Well, if an issue comes up, you know, I don`t want to prejudge it, but it`s not my intention.


MELBER:  Is that new information that he is asserting that the bulk of these redactions are coming from the team and how will you prove or enforce whether or not he`s telling the truth about this when it all comes out.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, Ari, he hinted at that yesterday in his House testimony.  I wanted to confirm that today and he did confirm that the Mueller team is essentially in charge of making the redactions in those three categories, all of them except for intelligence.

But I also want an insurance from him that he would not override them going forward.  And I was disturbed that he would refuse to provide that public assurance because the Mueller people are perfectly capable of making judgments about redactions in those three areas.  And there`s no scenario I can imagine where the Attorney General, an unbiased Attorney General would overrule them.

MELBER:  It`s very interesting and especially to see the way you pressed them and got some of those answers on the record as we wait for what is now expected to be the report as soon as next week.  Senator Van Hollen, thank you for coming on THE BEAT.

VAN HOLLEN:  Good to be with you.  Thanks.

MELBER:  Also I want to let you watching at home know that tomorrow we have Governor Jay Inslee from Washington State who is also a Democratic presidential candidate.  He wants climate change to lead the 2020 issues so we are looking forward to having him for that.

I also want to tell you one other thing before I let you go.  It`s easy to forget when you take it all in that we`re only a few months in to this new Congress which came to power in a blue 2018 wave that actually have the highest midterm turnout in 50 years and the most women candidates running ever.

And as we like to put out around here, that trend actually goes way beyond politics.  Women and feminism are clearly ascended in all different parts of our culture.  Beyonce, the woman who famously ask who runs the world, girls, has been sparkling her own national conversation including her 2018 Coachella performance which is the centerpiece of a forthcoming documentary that was just announced for Netflix.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What advice would you have to give this generation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tell the truth.


MELBER:  It looks pretty good and the intersection of culture and politics is something we also look at here on THE BEAT which gets me to where I wanted to go.  I just sat down with one of Beyonce`s most trusted producers name Just Blaze.  He actually produced Lemonade, her very personal album exploring challenges in their marriage and female power and he recounts their process of working together on that album.


MELBER:  Did she tell you about the spirit or the sentiment she wanted to power the album or you got that feeling just from --

JUST BLAZE, PRODUCER:  No, to be honest, I kind of got that from listening.  So I`m just assuming there in my studio and I`m going through the records and I`m like no.  This can`t be what this is about.  If you listen to all the -- you know, the common themes, I`m like, wow, they`re going to -- they`re going to turn the world upside down when this album drops.


MELBER:  Turn the entire world upside down with what was a personal, political, cultural album.  And I`m sure you`re not learning for the first time, Beyonce is a big part of a lot of conversations.  So if you want to see that discussion, the rest of it is brand-new.  We`re posting it for viewers who are interested.  Right now you go to YouTube.  Just put in Just Blaze and Melber and you`ll find it.

Just Blaze and Ari Melber, you`ll find the entire piece on YouTube or if you prefer, it`s also up as audio on our BEAT podcast.  You can find that wherever you get your podcast.  If you have ideas for other things you want to see or digital exclusives, you can also always e-mail us at

That does it for me.  Thank you as always for watching.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.