CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Or Trump Advisor Steve Bannon, why he`s now going after Pope Francis. That`s "ON ASSIGNMENT" this Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern at MSNBC with my good pal, Richard Engel.
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" though starts right now.
Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. Are you expecting a big news week next week?
TODD: I know you are. I am. The question is, is it Monday or Tuesday and how redacted are you going to feel this weekend?
MELBER: How redacted indeed. I will be watching "MEET THE PRESS" Sunday.
TODD: I hope you have a redactful weekend.
MELBER: A redactful weekend to you as well, sir. And we`ll see what that really means. As you said, Monday or Tuesday or whenever.
TODD: That`s right.
MELBER: My thanks to Chuck Todd. We have a big Friday night show here.
Rod Rosenstein out defending his boss, Attorney General Bill Barr, and interestingly, previewing parts of the Mueller report which as we just discussed is expected next week. We have that story later tonight.
And a breakdown of Donald Trump`s Education Chief Betsy DeVos under fire now for using kids as props while still trying to slash $200 million worth of programs for literacy.
But we begin with Trump`s power grab and a sign that he knows some of his own orders are illegal. First, there are new reports Trump wanted to politicize border policy with an idea to try to bus undocumented immigrants into what are called sanctuary cities and are typically more politically liberal.
Officials in Trump`s own administration saying this idea was "so illegal and thus it was ultimately dropped." But Donald Trump was out threatening his opponents with this very policy today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ll bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it. California certainly is always saying, oh, we want more people. And they want more people in their sanctuary cities.
Well, we`ll give them more people. We can give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply. And let`s see if they`re so happy. They say we have open arms. They`re always saying they have open arms. Let`s see if they have open arms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This move to pressure immigration authorities into releasing migrant detainees into the sanctuary cities is, as the president just explained there, seen as a quite blatant and potentially unlawful way to use the notion of distributing migrants, or border policy, to punish your political opponents.
That doesn`t mean everyone agrees that it is punishment but it was clearly targeted that way, including Speaker Pelosi. A DHS official concedes this illicit purpose saying it was to "send a message to Democrats."
It is obviously only the latest instance of this president clashing with the law and his constitutional obligations. Because in a similar vein, Donald Trump telling the person who is expected to become the acting DHS secretary, as he`s been cleaning house, that he needs to close the border and that he would pardon him if he were ever jailed for violating these laws and rules.
As we`ve said before, and it is important to keep in mind, pardons are for criminals so that`s quite a thing to say to someone who has not even officially taken up the post yet. All of this comes, of course, in a wider context that you probably know about that we have kept an eye on here on this show and our reporting.
Donald Trump`s own attorney general under fire for his testimony under oath before Congress. He was proclaiming to lawmakers that first of all, he didn`t think that there was an obstruction case to be found from the Mueller report before it was even released and saying then in very provocative language, that when he referred to the lawful surveillance and oversight that occurred in 2016, well, the attorney general is now in a Trump tweet style calling it "spying".
He didn`t really see any evidence for that. "Bloomberg" is saying that Barr has basically become Trump`s Roy Cohn, criticizing him for not standing up to Trump, from shielding from the rule of law, and in their view basically falling down on his obligations as attorney general.
This blood bath at the Department of Homeland Security is a very real issue. And on Monday, Donald Trump was purging the agency`s senior management. That`s how this week started.
So there are reactions to the whole range of elements of this power grab. Some call it an abuse of power with Donald Trump trying to weaponize the federal government for what he calls political purposes.
So this is the type of thing that in the Nixon era we often heard about behind closed doors and it would leak later. In the current era, a lot of this comes out loud and from the top.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This was an attempted coup. This is an attempted takedown of a president.
We have bad laws. And so we`re fighting the bad laws. We have the worst laws of any country anywhere in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We know what one co-equal branch of Congress thinks about all this, at least on the Democratic side. And to be clear, some Republican pushback recently.
But what about the judges? They generally have to wait and rule on individual cases. And that`s a strong tradition for a strong reason. But judges can also speak in broad terms about what they`re seeing, about their own constitutional role.
I want to show you something if you haven`t seen it. This was a speech out yesterday where a judge was accepting a pretty prestigious award, the second African-American ever appointed as a federal judge in Mississippi, going on to compare Donald Trump`s criticism of the courts to what we`ve seen historically with the KKK and segregationists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLTON WAYNE REEVES, JUDGE, U.S. DISTRICT COURT, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI: Now we are eyewitnesses to the third great assault on our judiciary. When politicians attack courts, it is dangerous, political. You can hear the Klan`s lawyers assailing offices of the court across the south. When the executive branch calls our courts in their words, stupid, horrible, ridiculous, a federal judge was called very biased and unfair because he is of Mexican heritage. I did not know if I was in 1967 or 2017. We must do more to defend our bench.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m joined now by Matt Miller who served under the Obama administration at the Justice Department. Victoria Defrancesco Soto from the LBJ School Public Affairs in the University of Texas. And Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University.
Christina, I wonder what you think of a federal judge, speaking carefully, you`ll notice it was not a political style disagreement with the president, but an observation that I want to quote carefully. "I did not know if it was 1967 or 2017. We must do more to defend our bench."
CHRISTINA GREER, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Right. So I`ve always said the one thing that keeps me up at night is the U.S. census. I`ve added another thing that keeps me up at night and it`s the courts.
So we know that in the Constitution, the three branches of government should be equilateral branches, executive, legislative, and judicial. What is worrisome to myself, some judges, and a lot of American citizens is that the politicization -- polititization --
GREER: Right, from the president and his administration on to the courts at all levels is really dangerous and it will have really longstanding effects. The rate at which he`s appointing judges who have very right- leaning, some might say nationalist or supremacist leaning, and have been very open and articulate about how they feel about the way the future of the nation should go.
And a very specific 1967-esque vein is very worrisome to not just people like me but to judges who care about upholding the Constitution on the bench. And I think that`s what we were hearing because this is their occupation.
And they recognize that depending on what level they`re in, so many cases get bumped up to them based on how justices rule on whatever it is, civil or criminal cases. But when we have Trump and his administration essentially stacking the courts with hyper-conservative justice who worship the president and not the U.S. Constitution, I think that is the most dangerous and longstanding.
If we can survive a Trump presidency and our democracy can still stand, I think the longstanding effects of the judiciary branch based on decisions and behavior of the executive branch will weaken our democracy for, unfortunately, I`m afraid decades to come.
MELBER: Victoria, how do you view that concern in the context of the hollowing out and the pressure on DHS this week?
VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, LBJ SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: So what we`re seeing is the president running roughshod on a whole host of institutions. So he is not getting his way in Congress. Senate is still helping him out a little bit especially with the majority leader allowing him to get judges confirmed in a quicker time period.
But then what we`re seeing is he`s trying to stack the courts. And now, when it comes to the bureaucracy, and the rules, and the mundane procedures that have been placed in our bureaucratic institutions, he`s saying, "I don`t like that you`re not doing what I want you to do so I`m just going to fire you." So --
MELBER: Yes. For your analysis, you have Nielsen, Grady, Vitiello, you have the Secret Service and you have these reports about oh, if you say I can`t carry out an unlawful order, that`s pretty central, the president dangling a pardon. I`ve never heard of anything like that.
SOTO: So it`s every institution. He keeps getting blocked at different places so he`s just going to go down the line until he gets what he wants. And now, he`s saying he`s basically going to do whatever he wants, no matter what the DHS legal department said.
And you know what, he is going to take migrants and ship them across the country because that`s what he wants or rather, that`s what Stephen Miller wants. So for me, it is a system-wide concern.
Underscoring my fellow political scientists` concern about the judiciary, it is the wider concern. If he can`t have his way with an institution, he`s going to find a way to circumvent it.
MATT MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: I think we`re at a very dangerous time right now. The Trump presidency may be more dangerous than we`ve seen in the last two years.
And I think there are two things combined together really to put us there. One is the surge in immigration at the border I think is undermining the very rationale for Trump`s presidency that he ran on which is that he told his base he would stop immigration and he hasn`t been able to do it.
And I think you combine that with the end of the Mueller investigation. And at least so far, Trump thinking that he`s been able to do all the things he did to interfere with the Justice Department, to fire the FBI director, and get away with it at least, so far, with no consequences. We`ll see where that stands but I think he feels a little bit unleashed.
At the same time, he`s backed into a corner on his most important policy issue. He feels unleashed legally and like he can get away like he is unconstrained.
And so you have a president really probing the outer limits of the system, seeing just how much he can get away with and doing it at a time where he really does feel like he can act free of consequences. And I think two of those together put us in a very, very dangerous moment for the country.
MELBER: That`s very important what you`re saying, building on what the other experts here with us have said, Matt. And to go further, at a nonpartisan level which can be difficult given how political the president is, I just showed his plan to go after Democrats with border policy.
But in a nonpartisan level, I think what each of you are alluding to is the fact that America has always required, even in very divided times, the notion that the law is a buffer. And so even very partisan presidents have been told by their own aides, "Yes, I agree, we`re partisan buddies. We want to do these things. But obviously, sir, the law won`t let us do that."
Let`s go back to the drawing board. The lack of experience of this president combined with his choices, you just put it, to do this stuff really changes whether that buffer works at all. Take a listen to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, literally a right-wing oil executive. I mean not disagreeing on substance but on that type of exchange, Matt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: When the president would say, well, here`s what I want to do and here`s how I want to do it. And I`d have to say to him, Well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can`t do it that way. It violates the law. It violates the treaty. He got really frustrated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MILLER: Yes. Look, so I think what he is doing with DHS right now reminds me a lot of what he did with DOJ the first four months of the administration before Mueller was appointed, where he was constantly putting pressure on the FBI, putting pressure on Jeff Sessions privately.
That then blew up in his face where you got the Mueller investigation. That stopped him somewhat. He continued to attack them publicly but a lot of his private pressure stopped.
At DHS now, you`ve had him pushing for the last few months for the DHS to not just inappropriate things but illegal things. And when the DHS director who was willing to do a lot for Donald Trump, when Kirstjen Nielsen said, the one thing I can`t do is break the law. He fired her.
And now you have him telling the new acting DHS director it`s OK if you break the law. I want you to break the law. And if you do it and if you go to jail, I`ll pardon you.
So even this constraint where you have officials that say the one thing I can`t do is break the law, he`s trying to find a way around that. And it is kind of the most lawless thing you can imagine for a president.
And I do feel like if there are not any consequences for it, he`s just going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing and see how much he can get away with.
MELBER: Victoria, how do you put that in the context of the way that this is somewhat consistent? There are criticisms of Donald Trump about being sloppy, about being undisciplined, about making it up. And yet what we`re talking about here, particularly on the issue of immigration, goes all the way back to Sheriff Joe Arpaio who got the very first pardon.
SOTO: Right. So we think that a very key piece here is the bully pulpit that he uses. So he`s breaking all these rules, he`s flaunting tradition and rules and whatnot.
But what he`s doing is he keeps up that twitter feed and he keeps throwing red meat to that base. So he has this core base of folks who actually like what he`s doing. Because remember, he came to drain the swamp and he`s connecting the swamp with our existing institutions.
So while he`s doing all of this, he`s also using it as rhetoric to bolster him going into re-election. So I think another area that we can`t dismiss is the public at large. The 35 to 39 percent that is going to be with him no matter what.
And they like his boldness. They like that he`s authentic. They like that he shoots from the hip. And he`s leveraging that even to the detriment of our democracy.
MELBER: Right. And he may shoot from the hip, Christina. I guess the question is, who is he shooting at and is it illegal? Take a listen to an exchange here with Senator Cory Booker on all of this pardon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY REID, HOST, AM JOY: Donald Trump, the president also told the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, his name is Kevin McAleenan, that if he were sent to jail, as a result of blocking those migrants in contravention to U.S. law, that he would pardon him. Your reaction to that both as an attorney and as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and just as an American.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean it`s -- I mean first of all that should shake every American, that you basically have a president telling people break the law, and that he will pardon you if it goes.
And again, we`re sitting in Newark where kids are going to prison for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing and nobody is pardoning them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREER: So I agree with my fellow political scientists fundamentally. I think what is so dangerous is that the base and members of this administration and far too many members of the Republican Party are fine with letting Donald Trump say, I`m going to break the law and we`ll see what we do with it.
We know that he`s been a failure in the sense that the main promise he gave to his base was that he was going to build a wall. Anyone who has ever looked at a map knows it is geographically impossible.
And so now the new solution is I`ll just go into one of the 500 sanctuary cities and drop off these "illegals" into say Democrat jungles, to this local state partnership. Unfortunately, there are far too many Americans who look at these families at the border and they don`t see human beings.
This is a consistent message that the president is giving his base and when he talks on Twitter and talks on television, calling people animals, calling them undeserving, saying that doors are closed even though he is the child of an immigrant, even though two of his three wives are immigrants, even though four of his five children are children of an immigrant.
He does not see the people at the border as sort of the same lineage of his family. And when you interviewed so many Republicans, when you ask them about those families at the border, and they say, if they only get their children taken from them, then they shouldn`t have come. So there`s desensitization and there`s a lack of humanity that unfortunately this president is making normal --
GREER: -- which is really unacceptable, dangerous and antithetical to what American democracy is all about.
MELBER: Right. And the statement that you just said by way of quoting and we`ve heard it here. It is not family values. There are all sorts of things people do wrong and you can note that they`re wrong.
The United States has never used child abuse even in our own relatively sometimes draconian system as the punishment. And so the notion that you`re going to go ahead and say, I mean lawfully, I mean sanctioned policy.
GREER: Well, I mean, I will say this just as a footnote, right. I mean we have a long history of separating children from their families. Native American genocides, 400 years of U.S. chattel slavery.
And so this is, unfortunately, a long pattern of what American presidents have done to people of color. But we have not done that in the 21st Century.
MELBER: Right. I mean that`s part of the core (CROSSTALK) --
GREER: We have not done that in the 20th century. Exactly. So one would hope and pray that we`ve evolved as a nation. We know that we have a very dark past in this nation.
And so if we listen to our better angels and we try and uphold the values of the founding fathers and what they actually wrote down on paper and sort of make the brochure the reality of our existence, then one would hope that Donald Trump would see that. But he doesn`t. and he does not understand his role as the leader in the executive of this nation.
MELBER: Christina, Victoria, and Matt Miller, my thanks to each of you on this very important topic.
Coming up, a lot more news. Mueller`s past boss and supervisor now previewing what the new boss will release in the Mueller report next week.
We`re going to go inside a new push to kick Donald Trump off the ballot at the state level if he doesn`t release his taxes.
Later, we will reveal how Trump`s education secretary is accused of using children as not only props but slashing literacy programs which is important.
And a very special Fallback Friday tonight. Hip Hop DJ and Producer Clark Kent, author Gary Shteyngart and "Vox`s" Liz Plank altogether.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: So here`s a little Friday night riddle for you. Donald Trump is running for re-election, as you know. But that doesn`t mean he will Automatically be on the ballot in 2020 because news coming out of the states that could be nationally important is Illinois pushing legislation that will keep Trump totally off the ballot if he keeps hiding his tax returns.
This requires candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to be able to run on the ballot. That`s a rebuttal to Trump`s claim that no one out there cares about his taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: That`s an issue that was already litigated during the election. Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns, they knew that he didn`t, and they elected him any away.
TRUMP: Remember, I got elected last time with the same exact issue, with the same intensity which was not very much because frankly, the people don`t care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The people don`t care or as we`re seeing in many of these states around the country, 18 of them have introduced this kind of bills where they apparently do care. Washington State passed its own version of this bill in the state Senate. It heads to the House and the governor told us he`ll pass it, sign it if it gets there.
So when you look at electoral college votes of the 19 states proposing these tax returns, five of them went for Trump in 2016. The political math is 54 electoral college votes. We`re talking about something significant.
Now, these moves aren`t just coming from progressives in the states, either. Take a look at Congress. You have Democrats pushing radical election reforms. Some top candidates in 2020 want to end the electoral college entirely.
Senate Democrats want to reduce the threshold for passing legislation. All of it adding up to a big debate about bold ideas.
I`m joined by Zerlina Maxwell who`s the director of Progressive Programming at "SiriusXM" and Clarence Page from the "Chicago Tribune". Good evening.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Good evening.
MELBER: Clarence, what do you think about what it means that there are these ideas afoot, particularly in the states? And is it a problem if it looks like trying to change the rule in the middle of the game?
PAGE: Well, however it might look, we can expect a court fight because President Trump likes court fights. He has said so in the past and we can see how many times we`ve mentioned the term "constitutional crisis".
There are so many of these crises happening that they`ve become almost routine. So there will be a big question about that. But as we`ve heard so many times, the states run elections, not the federal government.
So whatever the states decide has a tremendous weight that goes back to the birth of this country. So I think the president is going to have a heck of a challenge trying to overcome that resistance.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM: I think also it is curious as to why the president hasn`t released his tax returns. He claims the reason is because he`s under audit but we don`t have any proof of that.
And certainly, as we head into 2020 and all of the questions around his finances which are currently being investigated, require transparency. And I think that states are doing the reasonable thing in terms of making it clear that if you are going to run for the highest office that we need to make sure that you don`t have any financial ties to a foreign government, for example, that would change your public policy making as a result.
MELBER: So I think that sounds logical. It makes sense. But what if in a different cycle, you worked for Hillary Clinton, someone was saying we want to see all her e-mails including the personal ones that she segregated in the famous, or infamous e-mail review. And Texas is not going to allow her on the ballot until she releases, to use a similar verb, all the e-mails. What would you say to that?
MAXWELL: Well, I think that there is a distinction between personal e- mails, which are protected by a password, and your tax returns, right. Because I think tax returns are something that -- there`s precedent for presidential candidates releasing them. There is not precedent for a presidential candidate to be required to release their personal e-mail.
MELBER: Sure. But you know we both have a lot agrees. The analogy is not the exact same where the password is one thing, the tax returns are protected under federal criminal law for leaks.
MELBER: And they can get in trouble. And there`s no other law requiring the release. I guess what I`m getting at is, I think there may be good rebuttals but I`m getting at are Democrats opening them up for looking like they`re doing a kind of a selective effort to kick him off the ballot. And if they don`t kick him off the ballot, are they owning that negative politically without getting a political positive?
MAXWELL: Well, I think that there is also the same pressure put on Democrats who are running for president, right. And so we`re also putting that requirement on to our own candidates and saying you should release your tax returns.
Certainly, you want it to be voluntarily. Because as a public servant, you want to be transparent about any conflicts that you potentially might have. So I would say the argument from the Democratic perspective is that we`re requiring Democrats to do this as well so it is not something that`s just trying to get Trump off the ballot.
MELBER: Right. It`s not as narrowly tailored a bill of a tainter if you will.
MELBER: Clarence, take a look at all the different Democratic candidates running right now who want to scrap the electoral college. As a long time student of politics, have you ever seen that in a Democratic primary race? And what does it tell you?
PAGE: Not specifically this, Ari. But what I have seen is, after each election, the losing party tends to have a lot of spirit for changing the way the elections are held or the way they`re run, whether gerrymandering or electoral college votes.
And then what happens almost inevitably, the next election or the next one, we find that whatever rule changes they make has backfired against them. It is very hard to try to build in some kind of advantage for yourself ahead of time.
But obviously, the system is lopsided right now. But at the same time, the electoral college was designed to protect the smaller states, protect their rights. So whatever change happens has to try to equalize matters. And it is very hard to do that in a way that`s going to stick around for very long.
MELBER: Well, and you make such an interesting point. And also depending on where the change comes, Clarence, of course, is not confined to one party.
MELBER: With the outrage on the Democratic side, right, with all of the party issues in 68 that led to relying more on the Iowa Caucus in the early primary states but because of the states that controlled and changed the laws that created those primaries for both sides. Do you see anything like that that could be a contingent or that would affect both parties here?
PAGE: Well, that`s a good question because I haven`t seen our politics as polarized as they are now. I mean you look at New York and California. Nobody expects them to go Republican very soon any more than Mississippi and Alabama are going to go Democrat.
So that can make a big difference there. And so far as long lasting effects of a change in the electoral college structure but there`s no guarantees. Let`s say -- but folks have been really hopping mad over electoral college since at least 2000 with the whole Florida Chad Debacle and all that.
MELBER: Well, there`s the whole thing, Zerlina, where -- to Clarence`s point, the people are hopping mad because someone can win three million more votes, come in first, and they`re not precedent --
MAXWELL: And they didn`t win. Won but didn`t win.
MELBER: Right. And then you travel abroad. It is hard to even explain to people.
MAXWELL: Right. I think what Democrats are actually doing now is important. It is not necessary that there`s a realistic shot to abolish the electoral college. Senator Gillibrand did introduce the bill so there`s legislation out there.
But I think what the Democrats are talking about are structural changes to our political system that actually make it more fair so that each individual citizen actually has more of a say. What the electoral college is doing is saying that the people in California don`t have as much of a say into the outcome as people who live in Iowa, for example.
And so is that fair? Is that really representative of the entirety of the American electorate when a state like Iowa, which is basically all white, is determining essentially who the nominees are going to be from both parties?
And then we`re going to New Hampshire, which again is predominantly white. And that is not what America is. So I think that what Democrats are talking about is structural changes.
Now, do I know if they`re realistic in our lifetime? I don`t know but I think the conversation is important. Not just filibuster reform or reforming the electoral college but also getting money out of politics. They`re talking about a lot of systemic changes that activists have been talking about for a long time. And finally, now, presidential candidates are doing the same.
MELBER: Well, you make an insightful point of course because you`ve worked on the campaign, money, and the calendar. What you`re talking about is which states go when are the two biggest determinants. And we`re in this early stage. We got this large field. The question of who`s still around to fight a month later and what they`re going to look like at least on the Democratic side is going to be pivotal. Zerlina and Clarence, thanks to both of you.
MAXWELL: Thank you.
PAGE: Thank you.
MELBER: When we come back in 30 seconds, why is Rod Rosenstein hinting at what`s in the Mueller report. Stay with us.
MELBER: The Justice Department says the Mueller reports is on track to still come out next week. A lot of people waiting for that. But rather than let the report just speak for itself in this crucial several days before it comes out, there`s another top Trump appointee at the Justice Department speaking out a little bit, Mueller`s former boss Rod Rosenstein and he`s defending his new boss Bill Barr for how Mr. Barr depicted some of Mueller`s findings.
Rosenstein says that Barr was basically being "As forthcoming as he can so this notion that he`s trying to mislead people I think is just completely bizarre." Now Rosenstein is one of the few people alive who has read the whole report. So either he thinks Barr perfectly summarized it, an objective complement or he`s playing defense here.
And most people now know that Barr did take the unusual step of announcing his own views that went beyond Mueller before even providing Mueller`s report to Congress. I would run out of room in the television frame to do more hand motions of how odd that was. And that`s not all. Again, I don`t know why they`re doing this.
As a reporter, it`s interesting, but Rosenstein making separate waves in addition to that interview because he just offered his own sort of informal preview of what might be in the report telling a small group of people to remember that the probe was focused on cybercrimes and Russian election or interference implying that`s something to watch for in the report based on the comments he made at a lunch which leaked to Bloomberg.
Now, Rosenstein is not simply defending Barr in all of this. He`s defending himself because Barr of course name-checked him in a letter about the analysis that Barr decided Trump didn`t obstruct justice by firing Comey or taking any other related actions.
Of course, Rosenstein`s involvement in that conclusion is potentially conflicted. At best, he`s a witness in the obstruction case because remember, he came to work for Trump and wrote the memo providing the pretext to fire Comey which Trump later admitted was a cover story aka a lie. And at worse, there are critics who say Rosenstein was pooled knowingly or not into contributing to an element of potential obstruction of justice.
I`m joined now by former Federal Prosecutor John Flannery. And I need your help because just walking through a factual history, there was kind of a mouthful, my apologies, when you get to all the layers of it. What`s your view of these little tantalizing morsels and if is there`s anything wrong here in your view.
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, yes, certainly. I sort of think of them as a nested Russian Lackey dolls you know, one supporting each other. I mean you had Barr the other day saying I don`t want to talk about the letter, and then you have Rosenstein go out and talk about it and as you said protecting himself.
And what it looks like is the Justice Department is so despoiled now that they`ve become a political arm of the West Wing and they can`t help themselves. And the rhetoric in which you have Barr testifying that he`s concerned about spies and spying, then he says he has no evidence of it, and then he`s talking about it before he`s done any investigation of it.
And I almost think it`s a Nietzschean slip or a Freudian slip because what they`re really talking about is they`re still concerned about FISA and they`re concerned about Page, and they want us all to overlook what Flynn and Jared did and Manafort, all of them, all of which is close to or facilitating Russia over us in our election.
So the long and short of it is I think that we continue to have obstruction and we`re having it in a larger way, and the house is making a mistake not passing a resolution, not going forward with the subpoena, not asking a judge to release the material and waiting. I think the -- you can`t win an argument you don`t make, and we`re not making that argument.
We`re -- you know, we run our hands, we wring our hands and then we don`t do the things that we should do when we believe what we`re saying and we`re calling out is wrong action.
MELBER: You can`t win -- you can`t win a legal argument you don`t make. Is that sort of a court version of Michael Jordan you miss 100 percent of the shots you don`t take?
FLANNERY: Well, there is that. But I think it`s more than law. I think it`s in life you know. Anytime that you leave in doubt or you`re silent, you seemed aqueous.
FLANNERY: I mean, that is a principle of law.
MELBER: And so then that goes to Rosenstein`s allege acquiescence here right, because --
FLANNERY: Yes, absolutely.
MELBER: Is it striking to you that he seems to be an official who takes on some of the qualities of those around him. Because when he was -- he was Mueller`s boss so in theory, he could make all sorts of decisions. But he really seemed to follow Mueller`s lead on how to deal with that and was more assertive about how important that probe was when he did come out and announce the Russian interference indictments. It`s the only time we had a formal in-person announcement because of the national security nature of it.
And now with Barr, I mean, he`s on his way out. He can go do whatever he wants. But even in his final waning days --
FLANNERY: He doesn`t believe it.
MELBER: He`s leaky and responded the news cycles. Go ahead.
FLANNERY: He doesn`t believe that, that something has happened since Barr is there. The guts that some people seem to have that we celebrated because we might have a full and fair investigation has gone away and it stopped at the waters of Trump and his family and finances. And what will tell us more in the days or years ahead is what really happened here because something happened.
And more conversation with those special counsels who left office, those who off-the-record on-the-record have disputed the conclusions of Barr and of Rosenstein. And Rosenstein, you`re right, he`s there defending himself, but I believe the pressure is enormous and even to have the conversation that Mueller supposedly had with these two you know, before they made the release.
And one of the -- one of the interesting things is there was a quote that it was not the President`s intent. They believed that that was clear and that`s why they could introduce their own summation, Rosenstein and Barr, that there was no obstruction. Well, that`s not an inferential hop by any means given what we are told about what Mueller found in his words in that fragment that they put in his four-page political letter, agitprop if you will.
MELBER: Yes. Well put. And John, we always benefit from your insights. Thanks for joining us on THE BEAT tonight.
FLANNERY: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Yes, sir. Up ahead, there are Democrats who are saying it is time to go deep and confront the details of Donald Trump`s Education Secretary`s plans, and they did it grilling her to her face saying she`s been using kids as props while trying to cut the budget for key programs. And later tonight, we didn`t forget you. It is time to fall back, a special edition come back.
MELBER: It did not go well. Donald Trump`s Education Secretary forced this week to defend a budget proposal that apparently was hard to defend. House Democrats were straight up roasting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOSH HARDER (D-CA): Can you help explain to me why the budget that you proposed eliminates every single dedicated federal literacy program?
BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION, UNITED STATES: Continued federal funding to try to fix problems has not yielded the results that we all hoped for. Those solutions are best -- are best done at the state and local level.
HARDER: One of the programs that you cut, the Learn Program, helps those states and local districts develop comprehensive literacy programs to actually solve this problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This is a policy based exchange. And then Democrats added how DeVos has been running the shop saying that it`s hypocritical for her to use children as props for these photo ops. And they release pictures like this showing her reading to children which is literacy related while trying to slash over $200 million for yes, reading to children.
The Trump-DeVos budget calls for cuts from after-school activities including children who need explicit literacy help who live in impoverished communities as well as grant money for textbooks which you need to work on reading, and school equipment and arts education, as well as counseling and school safety efforts, all of which go to the environment the students are studying in.
All told, over $8 billion, a 12 percent cut. Democrats also confronting her for rescinding Obama era guidance that would protect transgender students.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SUZANNE BONAMICI (D-OR): Did you know when you roll back the guidance that the stress of harassment and discrimination can lead to lower attendance and grades as well as depression for transgender students? Did you know that when you roll back the guidance?
DEVOS: I do know that but I will say again that OCR is committed to ensuring that all students are -- have access to their education and free from discrimination.
BONAMICI: Let me ask you this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I do know that is a problematic way to answer that question. and then take a look at this exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D-OH): Do you realize that it is your responsibility to educate every child in the United States?
DEVOS: It`s my responsibility to be the secretary --
FUDGE: It`s just a yes or no madam chair -- madam secretary.
DEVOS: It`s my responsibility --
FUDGE: Is that a yes or is that a no?
DEVOS: -- to be Secretary of Education.
FUDGE: OK, you`re very good at evading. That`s a really simple question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That part is not supposed to be the hard part. Now, a week ago, you may recall that we covered in a different hearing House Democrats using their oversight authority to press the votes on those plans by the Trump Administration, her Department to slash funding for Special Olympics. Well, their work, the pressure whatever else, it changed things.
Facts matter and the Trump administration back down to restore that money. Democrats are saying that this pressure that this oversight could do that again. They`re calling on the White House to back down on these cuts to literacy programs for students across America.
Tonight what you see again on education, an area that you don`t see Donald Trump tweet as much about, maybe he doesn`t want these stories in the news is a revealing of priorities of yes values on the issue of how we treat and how we educate and how we protect America`s children.
So we wanted to tell you about that, but it has been a long week, and before we go coming up next, it is time to fall back. I have DJ Clark Kent, novelist Gary Shteyngart, and Liz Plank together coming right up next. Stay with us.
MELBER: It`s Friday on The BEAT and that means it`s time to fall back. I am joined tonight by the real Superman hip hop DJ and Producer Clark Kent who`s worked with Jay-Z, Kanye, Notorious B.I.G., 50 Cent, reached number two on the Billboard, 100 with Mariah Carey`s Loverboy. He`s also a sneakerhead having design shoes with Nike, K-Swiss and New Balance.
That`s not although, I also have the New York Times bestselling author Gary Shteyngart, his latest novel like success has been auctioned by HBO.
LIZ PLANK, HOST, VOX MEDIA: Yes.
MELBER: Double threat starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. Also with me, friend of The BEAT Vox`s Liz Plank who hosts Vox Media`s Consider It. She interviewed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau which won her a shorty award. What a great "FALLBACK" we got here. Would you call it the mother of all fallback?
GARY SHTEYNGART, BESTSELLING AUTHOR: This is the mother of all "FALLBACKS" yes.
CLARK KENT, D.J: Who is the father?
MELBER: Who is the father? That`s a good question.
SHTEYNGART: You`re the dad.
MELBER: Well, I do tell dad jokes, Clark Kent. So that`s --
PLANK: Cool dad. Cool dad.
KENT: Cool dad.
MELBER: So that`s part of the way there. I love your music. I love that you`re here. Who needs to fall back?
KENT: Lori Loughlin.
KENT: The nerve her to think that she should let her privilege have her signing autographs outside of being -- outside of court. She should be ashamed of herself. She should fall all the way back.
MELBER: You`re saying, if you`re going there to face charges that you were helping your kids steal other people`s seats in college, that shouldn`t be an autograph appearance.
KENT: Not at all. She shouldn`t -- she should have been hidden walking in there and walking out.
MELBER: Liz, what do you think?
PLANK: Well, I think, first of all, we should say it`s on Becky. I think a lot of people get it. When you say her name, I still forget it. I`m like Lori who? So yes, it`s very disappointing. As a former fan of Becky, it`s been -- it`s been a fall from grace for me personally.
MELBER: Who`s on your list?
SHTEYNGART: Julian Assange and that weird new white beard of his. He should fall back like right to prison, you know. Sorry, just you know --
MELBER: Well, what do you see -- as a novelist, what do you see is in the story here?
SHTEYNGART: Well, I don`t know. I mean, look, people these days think it`s like cool to work with Russian intelligence because he gets to destroy Western democracies and you get to slowly poison people with biological weapons and the pay is pretty good, but it`s not super cool.
I mean, we`ve got to -- got to put an end to this. And you`re really helping out this fascist, authoritarian, homophobic, racist regime. I`m not even talking about our country, I`m talking about the Russians.
MELBER: I partly disagree with you because I`m concerned about the way they`re pursuing a publisher, but we welcome all views on "FALLBACK" and I do agree with you that the beard is suspect.
SHTEYNGART: The beard is suspect.
PLANK: What`s even there?
MELBER: Who needs to fall back, Liz?
SHTEYNGART: Who`s living in there?
PLANK: Yes, we don`t know. Paul Ryan needs to fall back. So he was very crushed when he gave unsolicited advice to AOC and she apparently did not listen. Paul Ryan giving advice about how to be a good politician to AOC is a sort of like DJ Khaled telling Cardi B how to be a really great rapper, right?
MELBER: Would you say DJ Khaled makes the best music?
KENT: No, he makes good music. The best music --
MELBER: Well, he always says we the best so --
SHTEYNGART: Well, they are the best.
MELBER: Now, my fallback is a big one.
SHTEYNGART: Oh boy.
MELBER: Take a look at the first ever space photograph of a black hole that we got this week. This is -- this incredible thing that we`ve always heard about. Now you`re seeing it literally for the first time ever. I mean this could be the top news story of the year. And I want the black hole to fall back for obvious reasons.
It`s six billion times the mass of the Sun and if you get too close to it, it will devour your entire planet. So I`m like fallback black hole. You make me aware of both my own cosmic insignificance and you`re scary to me at a planetary level.
SHTEYNGART: I totally agree.
KENT: I`m really scared of this thing too.
MELBER: Is it beautiful in a way?
PLANK: It`s beautiful. I mean, you`re supposed to keep your enemies closer. Isn`t that --
MELBER: If you get too close to a black hole, you are allegedly swallowed. Think about that.
PLANK: But aren`t you --
KENT: The question is when you`re swallowed, pause, where do you go?
MELBER: I think you die.
SHTEYNGART: Yes, I think so too.
MELBER: We don`t -- you`re right. I mean, this is why it`s metaphysical. I suppose we don`t know but it is -- it is the depth of matter that swallows all matter so I think that involves death.
SHTEYNGART: Yes, you`ll die. I`m no Scientologist but I believe you`ll die.
MELBER: You`re no Scientist or Scientologist?
KENT: I think you`ll die on the way there so it really doesn`t matter.
KENT: Because it`s going to take so long to get there that you`ll die along the way.
MELBER: I want to read from one description of it that we found in the Times. This image they write offers a ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that Einstein from whose equations the knowledge of black holes emerged was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming and the place becomes an eternal trap.
SHTEYNGART: If Einstein is scared, I`m scared.
PLANK: But then like, if you`re able to take a selfie right before you enter the Black Hole --
SHTEYNGART: Black Hole!
PLANK: Then, is worth it? Is this selfie worth --
KENT: But the selfie goes with you in the black hole.
PLANK: Unless you have --
MELBER: If you have live uploading, your last act, yes.
SHTEYNGART: You`re making a story, yes.
MELBER: Well, I`m really glad we set aside some time think this week to think about this. DJ Clark Kent, Gary Shteyngart, and Liz Plank falling back with us here on THE BEAT.
MELBER: Black Hole is on. I`m glad we got to get into that. We`ll have one more thing though for you. You got to see this rebuke from a federal judge of Donald Trump`s ongoing attacks on the rule of law.
MELBER: Tonight we also want to leave you with more from that powerful speech I referenced earlier in the broadcast by Federal Judge Carlton Reeves denouncing what he calls attacks on the Judiciary`s independence by President Trump and discussing how the rule of law can be twisted throughout history to turn justice backwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE CARLTON REEVES, U.S. SOUTHERN DISTRICT COURT OF MISSISSIPPI: When the powerful accuse the courts of opening up our country to potential terrorists, you can hear the southern manifesto`s authors smearing the judiciary for simply upholding the rights of black folk. When lawmakers say we should get rid of our judges, you can hear segregationist senators writing bills to strip our courts of their power.
Each of us has a role to play in defending our judiciary. Judges, politicians and citizens alike must denounce attacks that undermine our ability to do justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Some food for thought as we head into the weekend. Thanks for watching. "HARDBALL" is up next.
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