Trump vs. Rule of Law: Barr skips hearing. TRANSCRIPT: 5/2/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Jamie Raskin, Amie Parnes, Michael Tomasky, Julian Epstein, TimO`Brien, Robert Reich

YASMIN VOSSOUGHIAN, MSNBC HOST:  I`m Yasmin Vossoughian, everybody, in for Ari.

We begin tonight with the escalating fight between the Trump administration and Congress.  Attorney General Bill Barr, a no show today, at a House Judiciary hearing with Democrats considering holding him in contempt and Speaker Pelosi accusing him of a crime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Well, he`s deadly serious about it as the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States.  That`s a crime.

He lied to Congress.  If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime.  Nobody is above the law.  Not the president of the United States and not the attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So that is huge.  The speaker of the House accusing the attorney general of committing a crime for lying to Congress.  Today, an empty chair where Barr was supposed to sit, refusing to come in because Democrats wanted committee staffers to question him.

Democrats calling him too scared to even face them.  With one bringing in a bucket of KFC chicken, that`s interesting, to make the point.

Chairman Nadler saying they`re going to work for a few more days to get Barr to turn over the full unredacted Mueller report.  And if he does not, they`re going to vote to hold him in contempt.  Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN., JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  We will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the attorney general in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith.   If he does not provide this committee with the information it demands and respect it deserves, Mr. Barr`s moment of accountability will come soon enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Also today, Trump`s White House counsel blasting Mueller in a letter revealed today, complaining to Barr that the Mueller report was "political".  One person who has not responded to that yet or any of the other news, Bob Mueller.  But Democrats say they want him to have -- they want to have him testify on May 15.

With me now, Maya Wiley, former counsel to the mayor of New York City and a civil prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.  And Author Jonathan Alter who`s now a columnist at "The Daily Beast" and MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with the moment that Nancy Pelosi is talking about, now accusing the attorney general of a crime.  And that was the moment -- let`s go to that sound bite, you guys.  Let`s play that and then we`ll have Maya first respond to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL):  Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the special counsel`s team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24 letter that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report`s findings.  Do you know what they`re referencing with that?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I don`t.  The question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy relating to findings.  I don`t know what that refers to at all.  I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Maya, saying that was a crime, that he perjured himself right there in his testimony because he said that he did not know of any sort of thing from Mueller`s team and how they felt about his findings and his report that he put out there, the Mueller memo, the four-page Mueller memo.

And then he was trying to explain himself and saying he spoke to Bob Mueller himself, not Mueller`s team.  Let me point out.  Bob Mueller is the head of his team.  The definition of a team is the leader along with the people that are working underneath him.  So is this a crime?

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY:  It is potentially a crime.  And when I say potentially, what I mean is Nancy Pelosi is completely within her rights in this instance to say, this is a lie in my book and I believe it should be potentially prosecuted.

Whether it will win a jury is a different question.  That`s why I say potential because what William Barr has done, he`s a very clever lawyer, right, he is parsing here.

This is like remember the Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky defense I wasn`t lying and because it wasn`t intercourse, this is that kind of defense.  And so he knew exactly what he was doing.

He understood the -- it is hard to believe that he did not understand the question and it is hard to believe that he did not understand William -- I mean Bob Mueller calling him the day after his summary saying, hey -- send him a letter saying, "Hey, wait a minute."

And then call -- and then having a conversation with him by phone saying, "Hey, wait a minute."  That he did not understand that to be related to the concerns that were being voiced in the press from members of Mueller`s team.  That`s what you have to believe, to believe that he was not lying.

But a jury technically might find that not a lie.  But I think what`s so concerning is that a sitting U.S. attorney general should have been forthcoming in answering that question saying I don`t know but I have had a communication with Mueller suggesting that he had concerns.

That would have been the appropriate thing to do for a sitting U.S. attorney general who is addressing congress which has oversight authority over the agents.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you have Maya Wiley saying this is a crime.  You have the House speaker saying this is a crime, Jonathan.

So what is to be done about it?  How significant is it?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went on the record and called this a crime.  She`s got to follow through with something on this.

JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST:  No, I don`t think she actually does on that.  Look, she`s laying down a marker that his testimony, not just in this instance but it was a festival of lies.  At best, it was ridiculous hair-splitting or you know, man-splaining, Barr-splaining to the committee in ways that were very misleading.

But it is highly unlikely that they`re going to bring a perjury charge against the attorney general.  What is much more likely is that they`re going to hold him in contempt for not turning over the unredacted version of the Mueller report and for not agreeing to testify.

The latter is especially outrageous.  The Congress has constitutional and legal authority for oversight of the executive branch.  They can, and in this case, they will compel him to appear on Capitol Hill.

They`re probably going to have to go to court to do it but he will end up testifying.  Because the law is totally 100 percent on the side of Congress.

Now, in the past, what has happened is that witnesses have been able to negotiate over the timing of their testimony.  They say, you know, I can`t come in next Tuesday but I`ll come in a week from Wednesday.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  This is different it seems.

ALTER:  And that`s considered acceptable.  But there is no precedent for saying, "Well, I`m not going to come in and testify if you have -- because I`m scared of you appointing the counsel like a Sam Dash or John Doar character from Watergate who is not a member of Congress but a professional to do the questioning.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes.

ALTER:  That`s what he is afraid of because he knows he did badly in front of the Senate.  He is on very thin ice and he doesn`t want a professional, instead of a grandstanding politician, to be questioning him.  but that is not grounds for him to refuse to testify.  So this eventually -- eventually, he will be compelled to testify.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you have Chairman Nadler saying we want to negotiate over the next few days before we decide what he`s going to do next.  Obviously, that is not only about releasing the Mueller report in full without redactions.  That is also about having the attorney general appear before them in testimony and provide testimony there.

ALTER:  That`s the key issue, right.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  That is the key issue right now.  If the attorney general, Maya, is found in contempt, that is an incredibly long process.  The question is, is it worth it?

WILEY:  It can be a long process.  We`ve been referring to the Fast and Furious when Eric Holder was held in contempt.  And that has --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  It went all the way until Trump was -- became president.

WILEY:  Went all the way.  Although one of the things that`s important to note there is the D.C. Courts actually said, no, you don`t have executive privilege to the Obama administration in a case where I would argue, if they didn`t have it in that case, there is no way the Trump administration can assert it creditably.

But the point is, I think there`s the issue of the institutional credibility and constitutional authority of the Congress.  And then there is how to prioritize getting the story out to the American public.

Because one of the things that Barr is doing is obfuscating.  He is making the picture opaque.  He`s misrepresenting things that are in the report.  He`s misrepresenting the law in some instances --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  It seems as simply as this, he doesn`t care.

WILEY:  Well, I think he cares very much about spinning the narrative.  And he`s been willing to do it in a way that is misrepresenting both Mueller`s report and even his communications with Rob Mueller about Robert Mueller`s belief that he is misrepresenting the report.

And I think what is critical here is then getting Robert Mueller to come and say what is inconsistent.

ALTER:  Yes, that`s the most important.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  That`s correct.  That`s the most important thing.  We got to hear from Bob Mueller.

ALTER:  This is the sideshow.  Barr is a sideshow.  Mueller is the main act.

And we`ve read the book or some people have read the book.  Now, we need to see the movie.  We need to show the movie of Donald Trump`s crimes to the American people.

And that is done through congressional testimony, getting Donald -- Don --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Don McGahn.

ALTER:  -- McGahn in there and the other key witnesses in this case.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And Bob Mueller.  Yes.

ALTER:  And Mueller is very important.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So we`ve been speaking about contempt here.  Before I bring in my next guest, I want to run through the options Congress has if they hold someone in contempt.

So Congress could do one of three things after the vote.  Try to get House security to arrest Barr but that has not happened since the 1930s.  They could refer the case to a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. but every federal prosecutor in the U.S. works for the attorney general so that`s probably a non-starter as well.  Or they could ask a judge to issue a civil citation and there`s precedent for that.

As we were just talking about, about the legal fights, they took years on that one when Democrats held Bush White House Counsel Harriet Meyers in contempt.   The fight lasted until Obama took office.

And then what we were just talking about when Republicans held Eric Holder in contempt, the case was still going on into when Trump took office.  So it takes a very long time.

I want to bring in Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin who serves on the Judiciary Committee and was waiting for Attorney General Barr at the hearing this morning.  Take me into the room this morning, Congressman, first and foremost, as you were waiting Attorney General Barr and full well knowing he was not going to show up.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, it was a disappointing thing because we had watched the exchanges in the Senate when we could intermittently yesterday.  And it`s clear that Attorney General Barr has been exposed as a propagandist and a self-appointed consigliere for Donald Trump at this point.

When he received the report from the Special Counsel Mueller who was pretty much ready to go, he could have got it ready and given it to us in 24 hours or 48 hours, which is pretty much the historical standard with prior special counsels and independent counsels.

Instead, he began this three-week, three-and-a-half-week period of propaganda in which he tried to create an impression about what was in there, a false impression about what was in the report, and then to cement it in the public mind.

And we are still trying to lift this thick fog of propaganda by bringing in witnesses.  And they`re trying to resist us and obstruct us on that.  And we are trying the get the unredacted report as well as all of the underlying materials that go with it.

And we expect that.  And if not, we definitely plan to find the attorney general in contempt.  And understand we don`t have to go to court to start this off and we don`t have to get him arrested to start it off.  We can find him in contempt in committee.

If you act with contempt for Congress in our lawful powers, we will find you in contempt of Congress and the rule of law.  From the Judiciary Committee, it then goes to the House floor in which case the House would vote as to whether or not he`s in contempt.  Everything that you mentioned was the question --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So here`s the big question for you, Congressman.  Here`s the big question for you.  What is that going to accomplish, finding the attorney general in contempt?  What are you looking to accomplish there with that?

RASKIN:  Well, look, what we have is an administration that is now engulfed in lawlessness and corruption.  And we have to begin to check them at important points.

The attorney general theoretically should be on our side but he`s not.  He obviously has gone over to the side of the president and he is cooperating in promoting the president`s position now which is that he will not cooperate with any subpoenas.  He will not respond to any lawful orders or requests from the House of Representatives.

That`s obviously constitutionally intolerable and Congress can`t put up with it.  So we have to make it clear to the public and make clear to the whole system of government that the attorney general is acting outside of the law.

Then we have to proceed to get to the guts of the Mueller report, to bring those witnesses forward --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes, and you`re bringing up --

RASKIN:  -- so America can hear what happened.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Absolutely.  And you`re bringing up a really good point here.  Because one of the, I think, directives here and the big questions here is, do we pursue the attorney general until he provides testimony for the House?  Or do we pursue the unredacted Mueller report along with testimony from Bob Mueller?  Is that where we put our energy?

RASKIN:  Yes.  Well, I think that`s where the focus is going to be.  That`s what we were going after.

We`re trying to determine whether or not the president committed obstruction of justice.  There were 10 episodes of presidential obstruction or attempted obstruction which were recounted by Special Counsel Mueller in the report.

Obviously, the attorney general did everything he could to pull the wool over everyone`s eyes and to obscure that fact and he pronounced himself basically the judge, the jury, the executioner, the Congress and said there was no obstruction of justice.  Obviously, we`re disregarding that propaganda ploy by the A.G.

Instead, we`re going after what is actually in the report.  We want critical witnesses to come forward and testify to our committee including Don McGahn, the White House counsel who was ordered by the president to fire Special Counsel Mueller through Rod Rosenstein.

We want to hear from him exactly what happened.  We want the American people to hear what happened so we can get some semblance of reality.  Really, what we`re after is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth here.  And then we`re going to decide what to do.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right.  Congressman Jamie Raskin.  Jonathan Alter.  You have the final word, Jonathan.

ALTER:  Well, I was going just to say that Congressman--

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I`m getting yelled at right now so be quick.

ALTER:  --Raskin said we want him on our side.  He did not mean on the side of the Democrats.  What he meant is on the side of the law.  Barr is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.  Oversight is in a book.  It`s the law and he needs to --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Not the president`s defense attorney.

ALTER:  Right.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Congressman Jamie Raskin, Jonathan Alter, thank you.

ALTER:  Thanks, Yasmin.

RASKIN:  Thanks for having me.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Maya Wiley, stay with me.

All right.  Coming up, everybody, the Democrats` tough new line on Trump, Barr, and impeachment.  Will they follow through?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  I think we should begin the proceedings to remove the attorney general.  The person is obstructing real-time from holding the president accountable is William Barr.  And I`m calling on my colleagues to join me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Also, the Kamala Harris moment that raised the key question, did Trump order Barr to investigate his political opponents?  Hillary Clinton has some thoughts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON:  I mean I`m living rent-free inside of Donald Trump`s brain and that is not a very nice place to be.  It is one of their tools to fire up their hardcore base.  When in doubt, go after me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Oh, what a place to be.

And what the Mueller report reveals about Trump`s desire to get an attorney general like Bill Barr.

I`m Yasmin Vossoughian, in for Ari Melber.  And you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I`ve had him testifying already for 30 hours.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS:  So is the answer no?

TRUMP:  And it`s really -- so I don`t think I can let him and then tell everybody else you can`t, because -- especially him because he was a counsel.  So they`ve testified for many hours, all of them.  There were many, many --

HERRIDGE:  So as far as you`re concerned, it`s really kind of done?  It`s done?

TRUMP:  You can`t say that one can and the others can`t.

HERRIDGE:  So is it done?

TRUMP:  I would say it`s done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Wow.  So breaking news.  That was President Trump moments ago saying that he won`t let Don McGahn testify about the Mueller report.  And we just got breaking news as well on Mueller himself possibly testifying.

The House Judiciary Committee has now started discussions directly with Mueller`s team about coming to testify before the committee.  Nothing has been finalized but this is big news right now.

The committee is now in talks with Mueller`s team directly.  Not just the Department of Justice.

Joining me now to discuss this breaking news, Senior political correspondent for "The Hill", Amie Parnes.  And "The Daily Beast" Michael Tomasky.  His latest column is head of "The GOP`s Just a Racket Now, and Trump Is Its Godfather, Barr Its Wartime Consigliere."

Amie, I`m going to start with you on this one.  And this is some pretty huge news.  Not surprising necessarily because we have heard sort of some whisperings of this from the White House that he did not want Don McGahn to testify.

AMIE PARNES, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL:  Right.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Although we do know where Don McGahn stands on everything because he has issued some statements after the Mueller report.

PARNES:  Right.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  What do you make of this?

PARNES:  That this gives fuel to the fire to Democrats.  This is exactly the reason why Democrats are saying we have to pursue this because he is obstructing people from coming and testifying.

And that is the reason why you`re seeing people saying, OK, we`re going to hold him in contempt of the Congress if he doesn`t do this.  And this is why this is kind of giving Democrats the energy they need right now to pursue Barr and to pursue other leads down the road.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So what happens now here, do you think, Michael if he`s resisting Don McGahn testifying.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST:  Well, I think the House Judiciary Committee does everything it can to compel him to testify.  And they take every step they can in that direction.

McGahn is a big fish here.  He`s a very big deal because as we know he was very central to the Mueller report, to the allegations in the Mueller report, not exactly allegations but to the descriptions in the Mueller report that got toward obstruction of justice.

Trump telling McGahn to do this, to not do that in Volume II of the report where the obstruction sections are laid out.  So McGahn would be a very key witness for the House to get.

I don`t know how they get him but they`re going to push very hard to do so because he would make for some pretty dramatic television.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And -- but here`s the question, Michael.  McGahn has already spoken to Bob Mueller.  We know what took place with Don McGahn.

And not only has he spoken to him, he released a statement saying everything in the Mueller report that was laid out with regards to him and his interactions with the president was accurate.  So why is the president resisting this Q&A with Don McGahn?

TOMASKY:  Because he knows what John Alter just said in your last segment, there is nothing quite like seeing it.  It is not the same as seeing it.

It`s not the same as seeing Don McGahn sit there under questioning from Democrats and admitting this and this and that is true and watching those film clips be played on this network and the others for four days.  That will have impact that mere words on paper do not.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Amie, let`s talk about Bob Mueller now that we`re hearing that he`s actually directly negotiating with Jerry Nadler, the chairman.  What do you make of that?

That`s pretty unprecedented.  We thought that he was negotiating his time in the House with the DOJ but he, in fact, is not doing that.

PARNES:  Well, it speaks volumes about where he is, where his team is in terms of how they see this whole thing.  Their story has essentially been told for them.  They are upset about that.  They are now saying, OK, we`re taking this out of your hands and we`re essentially going to cut the middle man and come straight to you.

And I think this is why we`re seeing this drumbeat of essentially protesting the last few days.  This letter was the first thing.  You`re hearing rumblings from behind the scenes saying it was a mischaracterization.  This is why he needs to come forward.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes.  No, go ahead.

PARNES:  So I think that that`s -- this is essentially why they`re doing that because they want their story told.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So Michael, you can`t help but think, is this a reflection of the fact that Bob Mueller does not trust the A.G.?

TOMASKY:  It`s hard to see that it could be anything other than that.  And I think Mueller is itching to tell his story.  There is a risk there for Democrats.

I should just add.  Democrats will ask him questions.  Expecting him to say things like, yes, I would have brought an indictment against Donald Trump if he were not the president of the United States.  Things like that would be the money quotes they`ll be looking for.

Mueller worded things much more cautiously in the report than that.  So he may not be willing to go much farther in person than he went in print in the report.  The Democrats I think need to be mindful of that when they get him up there.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes, it is an incredibly good point, Amie, because we know Bob Mueller to be a company man.  He does not stray outside of the lines.

He knows what to say and not to say and he hasn`t said a lot over the last couple of years.  We haven`t heard much from him.

I can`t tell you how many times I`ve re-watched when Mike Viqueira chased him down outside church one day and tried to get a statement from him but we certainly didn`t hear anything from him at that point either.  He just said no comment.

PARNES:  Right.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So what do we actually expect to hear from Bob Mueller?  What are you going to be looking for?

PARNES:  This is going to be a historic event either way.  I mean this is what everyone has been waiting for, for two years.  To hear it straight from the horse`s mouth exactly what happened, exactly where.

If Democrats do have a case going forward, they can actually say this is going to make for compelling television and they can point to his exact words, his exact testimony and say this is why we`re going to proceed going forward.

This is the case that we are building and this is exactly what they need right now.  And that is why I think Trump will be a little bit nervous about what happens.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes.  OK.  Amie Parnes and Michael Tomasky, thank you guys both.

Ahead, everybody, Senator Harris rattles Barr on White House contacts.

Today, new questions about Trump`s possible abuse of power.  We`re back in 30 seconds.

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VOSSOUGHIAN:  Welcome back.  The image of the day, witness chair at this morning`s House Judiciary hearing empty because Bill Barr, he never showed up.  One impact, Democrats didn`t get a chance to follow up on the startling moment, Kamala Harris asking Barr whether Trump secretly leaned on him to open new probes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS:  Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?  Yes or no, please, sir.

BARR:  The president or anybody else?

HARRIS:  It seems you`d remember something like that and be able to tell us.

BARR:  Yes.  But I`m trying to grapple with the word suggest.  I mean there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation but --

HARRIS:  Perhaps they`ve suggested?

BARR:  I don`t know.  I wouldn`t say suggest.

HARRIS:  Hinted?

BARR: I don`t know.

HARRIS:  Inferred?  You don`t know?  OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So Barr appearing to squirm, unable to answer direct questions about Trump`s conduct or question touching on potential abuse of power that has come up before.  Back in 2018, "The New York Times" reported that Trump told White House Counsel Don McGahn that he wanted to ask the DOJ to prosecute James Comey and Hillary Clinton.  McGahn resisted, warning it could lead to impeachment.

And the Mueller report shows Trump pushing Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Clinton.  Clinton addressing both of those reports during an interview with Rachel Maddow last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I mean I`m living rent-free inside of Donald Trump`s brain and it`s not a very nice place to be.  I`ve been investigated repeatedly by the other side.  And much to their dismay but to my satisfaction, it has been for naught.

This is a diversion attack.  It is one of their tools to fire up their hardcore base.  When in doubt, go after me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right.  Joining me now is Julian Epstein, former chief Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.  The same type of staff lawyer who would have been questioning Barr if he showed up today.  And Natasha Bertrand, political reporter for -- who has covered the Russia probe from the start.

Julian, I`m going to start with you on this one.  What type of questions would you have been asking Bill Barr in this morning?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I would have specifically gone after the four obstruction areas.  I think Mueller was rather specific that the elements of obstruction were met in at least four areas.  Barr`s explanation yesterday was that Trump was merely trying to clear up a "New York Times" story.  I think that`s demonstrably false.

So I think that I would certainly start there and I would certainly start with the evasions about the character -- the mischaracterization about the Mueller report.  I don`t even think -- I think Bob Barr has misserved the president I think a couple of weeks ago.

Democrats were very divided and the public was starting to turn its attention elsewhere.  I think the mischaracterization of the Barr report, together with the attacks on Mueller today and the stonewalling of subpoenas is exactly the lessons that we learned not to do in 1998 in terms of effective pushback.

What they`re doing is they`re keeping this issue in the media for a much longer period of time.  They`ve reignited this debate.  They`ve unified the Democrats.  They`ve done all the things wrong in the last two weeks, even though the storyline was kind of headed in their direction, was headed in their favor.

They`ve done everything possible to reverse it.  And I think the White House counsel and Bill Barr, the real story is here, it`s that they are dramatically misserving the president who wants to get this story to its completion.  And they`ve extended this thing into the foreseeable future.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Julian, one of the reasons that the attorney general cited that he wouldn`t show up this morning was because staff lawyers were going to be -- that was the reason, was because staff lawyers were going to be questioning him in addition to Congress people. What is the advantage of that?

EPSTEIN:  Well the advantage is you have 30 minutes and you have skilled attorneys that can get in and get to the crux of the legal matter.  Members, I love them all, no disrespect to them, love to make big speeches and get on T.V. for their constituents at night and not -- often are not the most effective questioners.

It is true that it is not common for staff to question a cabinet official.  It happens very, very rarely.  But in 1998, we questioned Ken Starr who was standing in for the Attorney General as the Independent Counsel at that point.  During Iran-Contra, they questioned cabinet-level officials.  And there`s precedent for it for the kind of like time stands still earth- shattering investigations into administration corruption.  There`s plenty of precedents even if it`s not common.

And again, I think Barr is not a very important witness.  I think Mueller is much, much, much more important at this point.  But I think Barr`s conduct has again really miss-served this president by fueling the fire, unifying Democrats, and extending this issue in the -- in the public -- in the public square now for a good another six months at least.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Natasha, I want to replay the exchange between the Attorney General and Kamala Harris when she asked him about whether or not he was ever asked to open up an investigation, and then I`m going to follow that up with the first time we heard the Attorney General used the word spying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  I`m trying to grapple with the word suggests.  They have not asked me to open an investigation but --

HARRIS:  Perhaps they suggested.

BARR:  I don`t know, I wouldn`t say suggested.

HARRIS:  Hinted.

BARR:  I don`t know.

HARRIS:  Inferred.   You don`t know, OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So you`re not -- you`re not suggesting though that spying occurred.

BARR:  I don`t -- well, I guess you could -- I think there`s -- a spying did occur.  Yes, I think spying did occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Natasha, you can`t help but think when you listen to the exchange between the Attorney General and Kamala Harris, and Senator Harris, and then here the Attorney General talking about spying and wanting to look into that during the Obama administration.  You also can`t help but remember how many times the president has used the terminology spying and talks about how he believed his campaign was being unlawfully spied upon.

What do you make of that connection there?

NATASHA BERTRAND, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO:  Yes.  And I would also add the big New York Times piece from this morning outlining how Rudy Giuliani, the president`s personal attorney, has been really pushing the Justice Department to go hard on Hunter Biden`s ties to Ukraine and you know, certain issues having to do with Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.  This is -- a report that said that Giuliani was actually talking to the President about pressuring the Justice Department to look into these ties.

So the idea that the President who has in the past pressured people in the Justice Department, his Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General to go down certain investigative avenues whether it`s Clinton, or Comey, or the investigators in 2016 and beyond who investigated the Russia Russian interference.  It just seems virtually implausible and impossible that he wouldn`t have had these kinds of conversations with Bill Barr. 

And I think that is why Barr hesitated at the hearing yesterday.  He knows that he could not say no, I have never had a conversation with anyone in the White House about certain avenues of inquiry that they want me to go down because that would have been a lie.  So there are many, many things I think that the President would like to see investigated.  Of course, Clinton is one -- the Clinton Foundation is one that they toss out there every now and then.

And then of course, people like Comey and Andy McCabe who you know pursued the investigation in 2016, and then the Ukrainians which of course was the counter to the Mueller report.  They were saying well, it wasn`t the -- it wasn`t Republicans that were colluding with the Russians, it was a Democrats that were including with the Ukrainians.  So there`s a ton out there that I think he would have a lot of -- lot to say to the Attorney General.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  You also feel like the Attorney General definitely pause there when he was obviously trying to answer and figure out what exactly Kamala Harris was asking him, the senator was asking him.  And you can`t help but think about the fact that he has a President who tweets a lot and could feasibly have tweeted, I did ask the Attorney General to look into something and I`m allowed to do that because the president has a history of doing such things as that.  And then the Attorney General could have very well found himself in hot water.

Julian Epstein, Natasha Bertrand thank you guys both very much.  I appreciate it.  Ahead, a former Clinton cabinet member says Congress should be ready to arrest Attorney General Barr.  He joins us live.  And more on the breaking news, everybody.  Mueller`s team talking directly with Democrats about testimony.  We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Welcome back.  A possible sign that Mueller might not fully trust Attorney General Barr.  The breaking news, Chairman Nadler`s House Judiciary Committee is talking directly with Mueller`s team about coming to testify before the committee.  Nothing has been finalized but Mueller now in discussions with the Democrats not just the Department of Justice.

This news coming as Hillary Clinton says Bill Barr is acting like Trump`s personal defense lawyer.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think that the Democrats on the committee did a good job today in exposing that, that he is the President`s defense lawyer.  He is not the Attorney General of the United States in the way that he has conducted himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And today, Barr is ducking the hard questions from lawyers but is this surprising?  Before Trump tap Barr, he sends an unsolicited memo to Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein saying Mueller`s obstruction probe was "fatally misconceived because Trump`s actions were under his presidential authority."  A point Barr repeated in his testimony yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  If in fact, a proceeding was not well-founded, if it was based on false allegations, the President does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course.  The president could terminate that proceeding, and it would not be a corrupt intent because he was being falsely accused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  With me now is Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg View and Author of Trump Nation, and Maya Wiley is back with us.  They`ve both been shaking their heads when we were listening to the Attorney General.  So I`m just going to let you guys go on this one because it seems like you have an opinion.

Tim, I`ll let you go because Maya was with me in the last half.  Go ahead.

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW:  Well, you know, the premise there the Barr makes that the president, if he believes that the accusations are false can then stick his fingers in the middle of a federal investigation I think is a completely bogus philosophic approach to this from either legal or an institutional perspective, because Trump didn`t know what all the underlying evidence was necessarily.  We still don`t.

Kamala Harris made it very clear during the hearing that Bill Barr himself didn`t look at the underlying evidence.  So I don`t think the President gets to sit on essentially on a throne above the process and say I know better than everyone else involved in this if.  And I feel it`s going the wrong direction, I can derail it.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  It seems very basic to me to put it in basic terms, that if there`s an investigation that I don`t like that was started about me, that I can go ahead and fire the person that is looking into me.  OK, I`m going to let them investigate and find out that I`m completely guilt -- not guilty, right.

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Exactly.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So if the President felt like this investigation was unjustified, then where is the evidence to back that claim up?

WILEY:  Well, that -- yes, exactly.  It`s like we didn`t have a two-year investigation with 30 some-odd indictments and a whole bunch of guilty pleas, and several people close to the president winding up in prison because there was just false accusation.  That`s -- and even Robert Mueller`s report says we didn`t have sufficient evidence to establish, to establish conspiracy with the Russian government, and then named three separate reasons why it was difficult to get sufficient evidence to determine whether or not there was, right, which is folks took the Fifth Amendment, people lied, witnesses were overseas and they couldn`t get access to witnesses.

That -- all that says is so we can`t exonerate them either.  But -- so when you have an attorney general of the United States simply make the suggestion that a sitting president can remove any -- the reason we have a special counsel is exactly for this reason.  And what you`re really saying is we don`t have a legal process that can be trusted.

The President of the United States would essentially be saying, I as president United States do not trust the United States law enforcement.  That`s -- that in and of itself is a statement.

O`BRIEN:  And Mueller went out of his way in his report to point exactly at this, that no one in the United States is above the law, that we had these processes in place for a reason, and that in his view I think was pretty clear in that report he thought that the Congress should be the final arbiter of what occurred here, not the Attorney General.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Go ahead.

WILEY:  This is -- that`s exactly the next point I was going to make as well because Tim, your brilliant.  Which is that --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Just the lovefest here, everybody.

WILEY:  Which is that part of the job is to amass the evidence for Congress to determine whether or not there`s been an abuse of authority.  Because part of what the obfuscation was of this -- of that hearing yesterday was Barr suggesting, unless you meet a criminal standard, a criminal standard that Congress can`t act.  But that is not the way the Constitution is structured and that`s not what congressional authority for impeachment.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So a lot of people are asking today and over the last couple of weeks they`ve been asking this, what happened the Bill Barr we thought we knew.  Because not to call you out Maya, but I know a lot of people who were up here in the legal community, I didn`t know necessarily Bill Barr.

O`BRIEN:  I was not of that opinion.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  That said we can trust him.  He -- this is a guy who knows what he`s doing.  He has been here before.  He`s going to do the right thing, and so on and so forth.  But there was a Jim Comey New York Times op-ed and he tried to answer the question as to what happens to people that work in the Trump administration.  And the title of this op-ed was James Comey: How Trump co-op`s leaders like Bill Barr.

And here`s a quote from it.  Trump eats your soul in small bites.  Go ahead.

O`BRIEN:  This behavior from Bill Barr didn`t begin with his advisory role to Donald Trump.  Bill Barr during the Iran-Contra investigation when he was George H.W. Bush`s Attorney General advised him how he could use pardons to prevent that investigation from rolling into the Oval Office.

Bill Barr has a long history of using legal methods, maneuvers decisions, philosophically I think because he leaves any strong imperial presidency to derail congressional scrutiny and specifically to derails special council scrutiny.

So this didn`t happen because Donald Trump ate Bill Barr`s soul.  This is a meeting of the minds.  This is a meeting of the minds.  He is not Jim Mattis.  Jim Mattis left.  He is not Sarah Saunders who subsumes herself to Trump every day.  This is an individual who came in intending to do this, and I think they discussed it when he was auditioning for the job.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Maya, I got to let you have your ten seconds to --

WILEY:  My ten seconds is we -- everyone knew that Trump was only going to hire someone he believed would protect them and that that was going to be the conversation.  But I think many of us thought he was going to try to protect him within the bounds of the law.  Lying to Congress, keeping information from Congress, and blocking Congress from doing its constitutional duty is not -- it`s a kind of boundary crossing we didn`t think that one needed to do even if you thought your job was to create the best legal path for the president.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right, Tim O`Brien, Maya Wiley, thank you guys both.  I appreciate it.

O`BRIEN:  Thank you.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right, coming up, I`m going to talk to a former Clinton cabinet member who says Congress should be ready to arrest Bill Barr.  Robert Reich, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Welcome back.  The question how to handle an Attorney General who you believe committed a crime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Should he go to jail?  Should he go to jail for it?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  There`s a process involved here and as I said, I`ll say it again, and how many your questions you had, the committee will act upon how we will proceed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  That was Pelosi today saying Barr lied to Congress, but avoiding the question about actual jail time.  And then there`s the provocative take from my next guest, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich who wrote before Barr`s testimony that one remedy, if Barr does not cooperate with Democrats in Congress, could indeed be arresting him and putting him in jail.

Robert Reich is joining me now.  And thank you so much for being here, Robert.  I very much appreciate it.  You wrote that before Barr testified obviously yesterday.  Has your view changed at all?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY, UNITED STATES:  No, Yasmin.  He refuses to testify before the House.  Now, there is some negotiation going on.  Maybe he will testify before the House.  but there is an old precedent in this country under the Constitution of the United States, affirmed by the Supreme Court that says that the House and the Senate, each chamber has an inherent power to compel a witness to testify if that witness just refuses and that includes arrest and it even includes jail.

And we forget that because it`s been such a long time.  It`s been 1935 -- 34 since that happened, but it`s there and the Supreme Court has affirmed that authority.  And I`m just -- the reason I put that out there -- and that was even before Nancy Pelosi said what she said today -- because we really have to think of this in terms of a constitutional crisis.

If the president and the administration are stonewalling and say there will be absolutely no information, no testimony, no report, no Mueller Report that goes to the House, then the House is powerless unless the House takes some action.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  It seems though, I have to say with the people I have been speaking to incredibly unrealistic to imagine the attorney general being put in handcuffs and behind bars.  Here`s what you -- here`s what you wrote.  The House can order its own sergeant at arms to arrest the offender, subject him to a trial before the full House.  And if judged to be in contempt, jail that person until he actually appears.  Do you think this is a realistic scenario or just a threat?

REICH:  This is a realistic threat.  But let me say -- let me say why this is an important threat.  Otherwise, the Trump administration can run out the clock.  In other words, Congress could decide, the House could decide to hold the witness in contempt which is criminal and then it would just languish through the courts.

And because the Justice Department really runs the show, it could take another year and a half, and then the clock runs out.  The way it expedites this issue up to the Supreme Court and not let the Trump administration run the clock is to actually act on the constitutional authority that the House has.

And that constitutional authority as I said enshrined in a Supreme Court case.  I think it was called Jurney versus MacCracken, 1935.  You go look back at it.  It`s clear that the House could do that, but in so threatening it would.  And even if you had a sergeant of arms go to the Justice Department, I mean, I doubt that there would actually be such a clash, but you have to get what -- it would force the Trump administration to get an injunction in court and that would be expedited I expect up to the Supreme Court.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  You actually serve in the Clinton administration.  I want to take a listen to Lindsey Graham back in actually 1998 talking about presidents who defy subpoenas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  It`s your job to tell us what we need.  It is your job to comply with the things we need to provide oversight over you.  The day Richard Nixon failed to answer to that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I`m going to bet Lindsey Graham has changed his tune today which I think we all know he has.  But could the same actions apply now?

REICH:  Of course.  Even Sam Ervin.  You remember Senator Sam Ervin, the Watergate -- Chairman of the Watergate committee.  He threatened and very, very explicitly anybody from the administration, including the president that did not show up for a subpoena that they would be arrested.  He was threatening arrest at that time back in the early 70s under Watergate.

So this is not completely out of the question.  And although Republicans like Lindsey Graham you know, will talk about it when their person is not actually -- their administration is not under the gun, this is something that is necessary to threaten because otherwise -- and this is the important point, otherwise there is no power in Congress, in the House or Senate, each chamber separately to oversee what the administration is doing.

The Constitution makes these branches of government co-equal branches.  And it`s not co-equal if the President can just say, well, forget it.  I`m going to order everybody to basically reject any subpoena, any request for information.  And it doesn`t matter if you hold anybody in contempt.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right, Robert Reich, thank you so much.  His latest book is The Common Good.  We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VOSSOUGHIAN:  That does it for me, everybody.  I`m going to see you back here tomorrow morning on "FIRST LOOK" at 5:00 a.m. Eastern.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Flanking the bar exam.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

 

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