Trump opposes Mueller testifying. TRANSCRIPT: 5/6/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: John Flannery, Mary Gay Scanlon, Neal Katyal, Lanny Davis, BillWeld

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Thing there was to a key on election night.  But what it was in those states, that`s an interesting question to get into as well.  Former Senator Joe Donnelly, I wish we had more time to dive into it.  But I appreciate you making a few minutes for us today.

And that is it for tonight.  We`ll be back Tomorrow with more MEET THE PRESS DAILY.

And "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. 

Good evening to you, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Steve.  Thank you so much.  And good evening to you at home.  It`s good to be back with you on THE BEAT.

And I will tell you, I think we have quite a show tonight.  Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen reporting to prison to begin his sentence today.  Cohen`s lawyer joins us exclusively tonight on that very significant story.

Also, new pressure on Trump Attorney General Bill Barr.  Former DOJ insider Neal Katyal is here to explain some of what he views as unprecedented in that story that obviously is hitting a fever pitch.

And later, a Republican challenging Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president is here live for the first time.  So a lot to get to.

But we begin with the legal and political hurricane that has been heading towards Trump Attorney General Bill Barr.  They say elections have consequences.  I`m sure you`ve heard that.

Tonight, Democrats are saying deadlines also have consequences.  Critics arguing that Mr. Barr has used his short but very controversial tenure to already become one of the most questionable Trump appointees of this entire Trump presidency.

And today, Mr. Barr gave them more ammunition, blowing past Congress` long known deadline to provide the full unredacted Mueller report.  House Democrats are not having it.  They are moving towards a vote this week to hold him in contempt.  Now if that happens, Mr. Barr would become only the second attorney general ever held in contempt in U.S. history and the first to be held in contempt during his very first year on the job.

Chairman Nadler issuing a 27-page contempt report against Barr.  It sites impeachment for the very first time as a possible, possible end result of the House probe.

Let me show you what I mean.  It notes that this House probe may decide whether to approve articles of impeachment for this president or any other administration official.

That clearly has Barr`s attention.  His department now responding to Nadler today, suggesting that they meet on Wednesday to negotiate some sort of "acceptable accommodation".  Now, it`s noble and perhaps notable that at this juncture, we have Chairman Nadler now name-checking impeachment, because he didn`t have to.

As a legal matter, these topics when raised at all are raised quite carefully.  We`ve reported that when Mueller touched on impeachment in his report, he did it primarily in those little footnotes, a very careful way to note what is legally possible but ultimately up to the Congress.

All of this wrangling, though, is ultimately about whether Mueller`s words on paper come out amidst this wider fight over getting Mueller`s words in the flesh.  Democrats now are in talks with Mueller`s team about a date, a specific date that could come this month for him to testify.

And that, as you may have heard has the president shook.  He is now saying he hopes Mueller won`t testify, but this is not Donald Trump`s call.  Congress can force all kinds of witnesses to testify, and even Bill Barr has been reiterating he`s not even against it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL):  What about Bob Mueller?  Should he be allowed to testify before the Senate?

BARR:  I`ve already said publicly I have no objection to him.

DURBIN:  And Don McGahn?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Bob Mueller`s report is done.  We know that.  His credibility is now at an all-time high with Republicans telling pollsters they like Mueller more now, given that he didn`t find a Russian chargeable conspiracy.

So why is Donald Trump so worried about what else Mueller will say?  Is Donald Trump worried that he and his attorney general have been excelling during a P.R. war, largely on the fumes of mischaracterization of the Mueller report, and that a fact check about the Mueller report issued to the Congress and presumably on television sets across America by Robert Mueller, that that fact check could undo a lot of what they`ve been doing?

I want to get right to it with Maya Wiley tonight, former counsel to the mayor of New York City and a former SDNY civil prosecutor.  And former Federal Prosecutor John Flannery.  Good evening to you both.

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY:  Good evening.

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Nice to see you.

MELBER:  John, what does it tell you that at what might be considered an early stage in this dispute and certainly the first few months of Barr even being on the job, he faces what looks like a very credible warning of being voted in contempt as soon as Wednesday?

FLANNERY:  Well, and also, as you noted, the resolution that they hope to pass on Wednesday cites possible impeachment for administrative officials as well as our chief executive.  And that should tighten the sphincter muscles of any person who has done what Barr has done, which is that they`re being challenged both Mr. Trump and his consigliere Barr for having tried to conceal what was in the report by bringing it to our attention over Passover and Easter and while the Congress was in session.

And now, we`re getting a second chance to talk about it, and they don`t want that to happen.  They don`t want people to study the obstruction aspects of it, even as they are obstructing Congress` request for information for oversight purposes.

So they`re sort of proving their obstruction even as they`re getting into this fight with the House Judiciary and the other committees that are seeking information from the White House and from the Department of Injustice.

MELBER:  And there you have a turn of phrase.  Maya, there is a lot of concern about that, and we documented here the way Mr. Barr has misled the nation.

At the same time, we`ve also been careful to note that unlike some people caught up in this, he does not stand credibly accused of any major crime.  The misstatements that he`s made have all been quite lawyerly, which leaves him wiggle room, even as he misleads.

So I put to you the question here that came from a Republican defender of Mr. Barr, basically saying if this is all a fight over a couple of weeks of P.R., is that really all the Democrats have left?  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP.DOUG COLLINS (R-GA):  We`re looking at 16 days or a little over that to actually go to a contempt report on information that he knows he can`t get.  My question to the chairman is why don`t he read what`s already available, and if he wants more work, then with the Department of Justice to figure this out instead of having the public show of contempt and trying to discredit Bill Barr.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Maya, what does that get wrong, if anything in your view?

WILEY:  Well, the facts, that`s what it gets wrong.  Because the issue here isn`t just what`s in the Mueller report.  It was William Barr`s decision essentially to say no obstruction, his reasoning for why no obstruction.

And then his -- as we have heard from Robert Mueller himself, he`s confusing the American public around the context and substance and content of his report, which really in any way, many lawyers that I know, including myself, read that report is really saying Congress, I think this is yours.  I`m kicking the ball to your court.

And that fundamentally means Congress has to understand that exchange between Robert Mueller and William Barr, why William Barr did what he did because that`s really about whether or not he`s interfering with Congress` constitutional authority.

And it also makes it sound like this is just an issue around if Barr was meant transparency as he said in his confirmation hearing, some of what we`re talking about is grand jury material, in fact, much of it.  And William Barr has refused to participate in getting a court order that would enable the release of that grand jury material to the public.  Why?

So it`s really obfuscating the fact that there is a lot, a lot, a lot that Congress absolutely has the right to understand, given its constitutional authority.

MELBER:  And John, how do you view that with regard to the fact that what makes Mr. Barr a seasoned attorney is his ability to think several moves in advance.  He said he is fine with Mueller testifying.  He knew a lot of this other stuff would come out and may further come out.

So how do you, as an analyst, reconcile that with the path that he`s taken?  And as you think about your answer, I want to mention to our viewers we`re going to stay in this discussion.

But we are keeping an eye on the festivities at the White House, where you`ll see right here some Trump family members gathered outside.  Tiger Woods receiving an award tonight and we`ll be keeping an eye on that.  We probably won`t bring you any pro forma statements but if there is news or if there`s Tiger news, we`ll give you the best of it.

John, your answer?

FLANNERY:  Well, I`m very curious to hear from Mueller, not so much as analysis of the report as his analysis of the timeline going from March 5 I believe when he met with Barr, and then he met with him on the 24, if that`s the Sunday that they release that four-page letter.  And he was with Barr in the afternoon.

And apparently, that letter wasn`t discussed because the very next day, Mueller sent the letter to Barr saying why don`t you use our summaries?  And we haven`t seen that letter.  I don`t believe anybody has.

And then there is the March 27 letter referring back to that letter saying basically, that you`ve entirely misrepresented our report.  And then we have from Barr, we have a translation of what he thinks his conversation was with Mueller.

And it`s pretty questionable that we should rely on what Barr says he said with anybody because his credibility is as good as Trump`s unless he is making an admission against interests, in my opinion.

MELBER:  Well, in the hearing, of course, there was the exchange where he talked about well, did you memorialize that call?  He didn`t.  But under questioning, he admitted that someone at DOJ did.

So there is fully two-sided notes to that call.  These are professional, seasoned lawyers.  They know each other.  Do you think --

FLANNERY:  I don`t think they`re friends anymore.

WILEY:  Yes, they`re not Roy Cohn.

FLANNERY:  Yes.  Well, not --

MELBER:  Well, at the end of the day, Maya, do you think that when you look at that, Mueller was outmaneuvered to some degree if he was reduced after turning in the report to saying, oh, please reveal this or that.

I mean the flip side, even though few questions Mueller`s integrity, it doesn`t mean that he makes every right chess move, particularly if he thought that Barr was going to be in his view perhaps more honorable.  But was he outmaneuvered there when before that fateful Friday, he could have controlled a lot of what else he put out?

WILEY:  Yes.  I mean it certainly appears that way.  We don`t know all the facts of the exchanges, as John said.  I`m curious because remember William Barr said well, I gave him opportunities to review and he said no.

Well, why?  And why would he say no?  And is it just because he is so completely trusted William Barr or Or because he already knew or had an inkling of what Barr was doing?  And that`s why he had the letter ready to go the next day after the release of the summary?  I don`t know.

MELBER:  That`s my -- I mean I don`t know either exactly, but my reading of it in terms of litigation procedure is that they had enough of a debate about it, whether it was by signal or implied or explicit that they had their letters and their notes ready to go about something that they knew they disagreed on.

Both of you, stay with me.  As mentioned, we`re keeping an eye on Tiger Woods and the president, approaching the lectern there at the White House.

But I turn now to Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.  Thanks for being here.

REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA), VICE CHAIR, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Thank you for having me on.

MELBER:  Walk us through the significance of what we`ve been discussing what your chair has written with the cooperation of you and your committee.  What are you trying to achieve here?

Is the goal to rush toward a contempt vote?  Or do you hope in the final hours to get something out of Bill Barr and not have to go that far on Wednesday?

SCANLON:  Well, our goal for the past couple of months has been to see the full unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence.  That`s why we issued a subpoena for it.  The attorney general blew through that subpoena last I guess, whatever, May 1.

And then again today has not turned it over yet.  So they really leave us no option if they`re not even going to negotiate in good faith.

MELBER:  Do you think Mr. Barr has underestimated Chairman Nadler and his willingness to use the powers afforded to the House?  He seems somewhat surprised or at least is presenting as if surprised that ducking the hearing and refusing the subpoenas would result in this.

SCANLON:  Well, there wasn`t a subpoena for him to appear.

MELBER:  Right.

SCANLON:  So I don`t want the get caught in that red herring.

MELBER:  No.  I`m referring to the subpoena for the report and then what was a voluntary appearance that he then left out.

SCANLON:  Right.  Well, I guess I`m not surprised that anyone in the current administration would be surprised when someone tries to do their constitutional duty.  But I think the resolve of the House, the resolve of the Judiciary Committee is very firm that we have a job to do, as you and your guests just mentioned.

Bob Mueller wrote that report saying I may not be able to charge but Congress has a job to do here.  And we`re going to do that job.

MELBER:  What would be the substantive bottom line result of Bill Barr being held in contempt?

SCANLON:  Presumably, that he would have to turn over the documents.

MELBER:  And if he doesn`t?

SCANLON:  Well, at that point, we`re in the courts.  And presumably, I mean fines, jail, those are the traditional remedies for contempt.  It is kind of remarkable that we`ve never gotten there with an administration before.

MELBER:  You say jail.  You`re saying something that is on the table is the idea that this results in a court battle where a judge formally underscores the contempt finding and then what?  The attorney general would be jailed?

SCANLON:  Well, that is one of the remedies that a court has available, of course, you know.  We`ve never gotten there because we`ve never had an administration be that intransigent or so blind to their constitutional duty.  I hope we`re not there now.

MELBER:  Mr. Flannery, your view.

FLANNERY:  I agree.  And I think that because the objection is so frivolous and because the report itself, if you consider it, is a series of summaries of the investigation.

So the argument that we need more is to evaluate the strength of these different claims, particularly the 10 obstruction claims.  And we understand that we have a conflict of interest from Barr and from Mr. Trump because they have no interest in anybody knowing exactly what they did.

And if you were to just take McGahn and Donaldson and put them on the Hill with their notes, we would have fleshed out that report in a way that a summary can`t do and lead us to believe the credibility of the challenge to the obstruction of Trump and the Department of Justice.

So I think if a judge in the District of Columbia were to see the pattern here of avoiding the role that they`re supposed to serve as cooperating with another branch of government, that they`d look pretty harshly about that.  And I think that they would have behind it two things.

One is now a resolution that is inquiring into possible impeachment, and that`s why they need the information.  And that is the power of Congress that should not be interfered with.  And that we have a chief of state who -- chief executive who would usurp the separation of powers and the role that Congress has to do what it`s doing.

And I think those are pretty powerful stuff to say executive privilege or any of the things that they want to wave around, they`ll be pushed away like a first-year law student I think in a courtroom.

MELBER:  Before I fit in a break, Congresswoman, my final question to you is, this entire fight is just about the sliver of material that we know about, partly because of the way Mueller did his job and the pressures that was brought.  Do you have confidence that Mr. Barr is going to faithfully and independently oversee the investigations of the 12 or so referrals that Mueller has issued about which we have very little information?

SCANLON:  Well, I hope you`re not suggesting that he is going to subvert the law.  I mean I wouldn`t expect that of any sworn officer of the U.S., particularly the attorney general, whose job is, as we`ve noted before not to defend the president, but to enforce the laws of the United States.

I think we have a lot of very dedicated prosecutors in the Department of Justice and I don`t think that they`ll let that happen.

MELBER:  Congresswoman Scanlon, John Flannery, and Maya Wiley, thanks to each of you.

Coming up, we have a lot more as I mentioned.  Nancy Pelosi laying down a marker for Donald Trump on defying Congress and bringing up this potential impeachment.

And our series Opening Arguments With Neal Katyal coming up ahead.

And later, Michael Cohen going in and reporting to federal prison today.  His lawyer joins me exclusively on THE BEAT tonight to discuss the unanswered questions and why Michael Cohen says he still has stories to tell.

And then later in the hour, a Republican governor, a former federal prosecutor who says Donald Trump`s obstruction is literally worse than Nixon`s.  Bill Weld, the first Republican to challenge Donald Trump in this year`s Republican primary.  And he joins me live on THE BEAT for the first time.

I`m Ari Melber.  And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  As you probably know, on the articles of impeachment for President Nixon, article 3 was that he ignored the subpoenas of Congress, that he did not honor the subpoenas of Congress.  This is very, very serious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Speaker Nancy Pelosi making it plain that defying subpoenas from Congress can be an impeachable offense.  Historically, it has always depended on what the subpoenas are for.

Congress doesn`t go to the mat for every shred of evidence.  Nixon was defying subpoenas for White House tapes as well as handwritten presidential notes that went to the heart of the obstruction probe.  Attorney General Bill Barr is defying a subpoena for another obviously significant piece of evidence, the entire Mueller report.

Democratic Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler leading the charge here now to, as we`ve mentioned, hold Barr in contempt, and stating for the first time that this process may lead Congress to debating whether to impeach the president or any other official, which can include, of course, Mr. Barr.

I`m joined now for our series, Opening Arguments, with former Solicitor General Neal Katyal who wrote the special counsel rules that governor Mueller and he`s, of course, an MSNBC analyst.  Good to see you.

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL:  Good to see you.  Welcome back.  We missed you.

MELBER:  Glad to be back.  Neal, walk us through what is important about a potential contempt vote or proceeding here against a sitting attorney general.

KATYAL:  So Chairman Nadler has said that there will be this vote on Wednesday and the vote is occurring because of a very simple thing, which is Barr has said I`m not going to turn over the Mueller report.  And he hasn`t even bothered to go to court to try and get the grand jury material lifted so that could be shared with members of Congress, unlike his predecessors in Watergate and the Lewinsky investigations.

So Nadler is saying look, if you don`t turn this over, we`re going to hold you in contempt.  And you`re right, Ari, he said something really significant today.  He mentioned the I word.

Now, Jerry Nadler is not one to use the impeachment word lightly.  Indeed, for the last two years, he has been the guy urging restraint saying we only do this if we really have to.

But now I think because of what Barr has been doing with respect to the report, he`s even, it looks like, starting to think about the I word.

MELBER:  When you look at that, it`s all a fight over getting the rest of what Mueller has, as you mentioned the unredacted report, the grand jury evidence, and Congress has a separate and wider role than simply what a criminal prosecutor looks at.

Then we have former federal prosecutors, over 300 today, coming out and saying their view is that the Mueller report shows Mueller himself thought this would have been a charge for obstruction against anybody else if he were not the president.  Your view of that letter?

KATYAL:  I mean, it`s hugely significant.  I`ve never seen anything quite like it, to have 370 plus former federal prosecutors which span Democrats and Republicans, including really prominent Republicans like Judge Martin who is a legendary judge on the Southern District of New York appointed by one of the two President Bushes and to have another position from the other President Bush.  All of them saying when we review this evidence, it`s obstruction of justice, and if this were anyone else but a sitting president, this person would be labeled a felony and -- felon and staring down the barrel of a federal indictment.

That is really I think a remarkable thing, and it strikes at the heart of what Barr has done so corrosively.  Because remember, Barr resolved in 48 hours what Mueller didn`t resolve in 22 months which was, has the president committed obstruction?

And those of us who read the Mueller report when Barr finally allowed us to read the redacted portions weeks later after his summary of it, which wasn`t a fair summary.  We looked at it and we`re like, wow, this is actually a really strong obstruction case.

Ben Wittes wrote a fabulous piece in "The Atlantic" all about it and there are lots of other analysis that you can see.  And what you have in this letter is 370 prosecutors saying yes, we agree with Wittes.  We agree the Mueller report shows the president is a felon.

MELBER:  And so when you look at that, I wonder about the fight going on outside of the courtroom.  You, as our viewers have come to learn, have argued a lot of super important court cases.  And you care a lot about what the nine are doing.

But everyone understands, well, this is the real world and the world outside the courtroom can matter.  How much of do you think the 300 plus folks there weighing in are doing so almost as a direct rebuke or reaction to what you just described what Barr did?

I mean I wonder if whether we had a fair playing field from the start and everyone just dealt with the evidence, whether as many people would have felt the need to come out that way.

KATYAL:  Exactly.  I mean that these folks did so.  And these are pretty resident folks.  I mean there are some people on there who will sign letters and some.  There are a lot of people who I`m not aware of have taken any public positions before.

But I think they did so here because of the gravity of the situation.  Here, you`ve got someone who has been - a sitting president who has committed acts that if committed by anyone else, we would call a felon and put in jail.

And I think that they felt like that was their duty.  That`s all they could do.  And particularly, in light of an attorney general, who has blown past any notion of attorney general independence the way that his predecessors have.

And so I think that`s part of what`s going on.  It`s about the Mueller report and Trump but it`s also about Barr.

MELBER:  You mentioned Ben Wittes.  And he and others have also written about how in Barr, Donald Trump may have finally found the protector he wanted.  Reading here from the Mueller report, the president would bring up other former attorneys generals such as Kennedy and Holder giving his view, this is Trump`s view that they had "protected their presidents".

That is brought up as a negative piece of evidence, although not as loyalists would say, not dispositive but negative about Trump`s world view.  How much does it concern you that at the very time we`re getting Mueller`s findings, we`re also witnessing an attorney general who is increasingly looking like he was created in Donald Trump`s image?

KATYAL:  Absolutely.  I think it`s worrying me greatly.  I mean this attorney general is acting in unprecedented ways.  And the idea that he could be compared to Kennedy or Holder is preposterous.

I mean this attorney general from the summary of the Mueller report to his clearing of the president on obstruction and the teeth of so much evidence against it is not acting like the attorney general of the United States.  He is acting like the attorney general of Donald Trump.

And look, Donald Trump has lawyers to deal with this.  He has his personal legal team.  He has the White House counsel whose job it is to represent the presidency.

But the one thing that isn`t the case is that the attorney general acts as the president`s lawyer.  And we have a long history about this.  I mean, for example, when President Andrew Johnson was impeached in the 1860s, his Attorney General Henry Stanbery actually resigned as attorney general because he wanted to defend the president.

And so he went and became his lawyer in the impeachment trial.  And then notably, after Johnson beat the impeachment conviction by a single vote, Stanbery wanted to be attorney general again.  The Senate didn`t confirm him.

And that`s an attorney general who is acting up and up.  This one is not.

MELBER:  Neal Katyal, a master of precedent.  The night is not over, and yet I believe you may have the only Stanbery reference on all of the news across America tonight.  And we learn so much from you.  Thank you for being here.

And I want you to remind viewers, you can find this discussion and Neal`s past analysis for us because this is a continuing series at msnbc.com/openingarguments.  Check it out.

And former Republican Governor Bill Weld saying Donald Trump has committed the crime of obstruction, and that`s part of why he is running against him for the Republican nomination.  He`s here live when we`re back in 30 seconds.

Michael Cohen going to prison today.  I`ll get you all caught up when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Tonight, Donald Trump`s long-time lawyer and adviser will spend his first night in federal prison.  Take a look here at this new footage of Michael Cohen as he was turning himself in today at a federal prison in Otisville, a village near the Pennsylvania, New York border.

You could see him walking in there and basically, overnight we saw a man who was once the high ranking executive at Trump organization becomes an inmate at a federal correctional facility beginning this three-year sentence.

It is a swift an ignoble fall from one of the people that Donald Trump relied on most.  And then in what were his final remarks to the public before incarceration, Cohen talked about what will come and he won`t get out until the next election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER, DONALD TRUMP:  I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice, and lies at the helm of our country.  There still remains much to be told and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth and thank you all very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Cohen they`re suggesting that he may have even more stories to tell and it was quite a scene.  You`re looking at more of that footage today.  But experts have also noted that Mr. Cohen has now spoken at length to the authorities and Congress.  And it would seem that at least his most significant legal stories have been told.

Cohen also asking why his punishment is so severe when he argues he was not even the beneficiary of his confessed election crime saying, "I didn`t work for the campaign I worked for him.  How come Cohen asked, I`m the one that`s going to prison.  I`m not the one that slept with the porn star."

That was one of his final interviews with The New Yorker before reporting to prison today.  For an exclusive now, I am joined by Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen`s lawyer, and advisor.  Good evening to you.  And I know as a lawyer and the work -- as a person doing the work you do, it`s not a good evening obviously for your client or his family, and we understand the humanity of that.  I wanted to mention that up front.

Walk us through the significance of what Mr. Cohen did want to share today before going behind bars and what it means that there`s a fuller truth he may someday tell.

LANNY DAVIS, LAWYER OF MICHAEL COHEN:  Well, first of all, I`m pretty sad.  I think there was great injustice done in both the targeting of Michael Cohen alone following as the federal prosecutors stated the direction of Mr. Trump, now President of the United States who then after becoming president, paid hush money in a $35,000 check that we put on national television.

It`s remarkable that members of the Republican Party have not once asked why Donald Trump wrote $35,000 hush money check as president of the United States and why that in and of itself certainly is a crime that he`ll be prosecuted for after he leaves office.

But Michael also asked me to remind the audience that the only crime that didn`t involve covering up and lying for the benefit and at the instruction according to the federal prosecutors of Donald Trump involved an unpaid taxes of $4 million dollars, actually $3.7 million that at this level has never been criminalized before but treated civilly, compared to others such as Willie Nelson -- I`m a great fan of his $16 million of unpaid taxes or Floyd Mayweather $15 million.

H&R; Block says that you don`t ever see criminal prosecution of unpaid taxes unless there are indicators of fraud.  In this case for Michael Cohen, there was no hidden offshore accounts, no nominees, no stash of cash, not even an audit.  In fact, the only legal violation in Michael Cohen`s life was a speeding ticket, and yet he is the only person in the entire Trump organization who`s been prosecuted and going to jail.

MELBER:  So someone listened to this especially our viewers who followed the ins and outs are going to say well, what was SDNY after?  Is it over, and this was some kind of in your view unfair glitch, or was there reasoning behind them throwing the book at him as these other questions remaining about as you put it the money spent by the president and facilitated by Trump organization in a manner that is a crime, a confessed crime in New York?

DAVIS:  Well, I don`t quite understand why the Southern District of New York prosecutors who I surely respect as professionals not only took a civil offense over a five-year time period under $280,000 of unpaid taxes and made it into a criminal offense according to H&R Block.  That`s just never happened.  And then ignore Donald Trump Jr. -- forget about his father not being able to be indicted now but could be if he leaves the office.

His son wrote a $35,000 hush money check in March of 19 -- excuse me 2018.  And that hush money check of $35,000 came from the Trump Trust Fund which wasn`t supposed to ever be used for the company for the benefit of the incumbent president.

So no indictment of Donald Trump Jr.  Many others in the Trump Organization according to Michael`s information that he shared with the Southern District prosecutors and will continue to share with Congress should imperil Mr. Trump once he leaves office and possibly while he`s in office if Congress chooses to impeach him.

MELBER:  It is a very interesting set of facts, one that we`ve covered before.  Lanny Davis, I appreciate you coming on the show tonight under the circumstances.

DAVIS:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Thank you, sir.

DAVIS:  Thank you.

MELBER:  We`re going to fit in a break and then I`m going to show you something you don`t see every day, a Republican who worked on the Watergate era investigation of President Nixon who is declaring tonight that Donald Trump`s obstruction is both worse than President Nixon`s and is the kind of thing that should deny him the Republican nomination for president, live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  The Mueller report document is substantial evidence the president Trump committed crimes in office.  That`s a big deal just as a fact and it may become a big deal on the politics as well if either Democrats decide it does warrant impeachment proceedings or if there is a Republican awakening.

Now take a look at this.  The share of Republicans who even think the Donald Trump obstructed justice is not only small but it`s been declining down to 13 percent.  Now, history shows those numbers can actually shift when political leaders shift.  Some of the first Republicans to turn on Richard Nixon and Watergate we`re leaders in Congress, not grassroots partisans who Nixon famously appealed to as a silent majority.

Think about the 17 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee in 1974 who stood up to Nixon or look today at something we mentioned earlier in the show.  This bipartisan group of 300-plus former prosecutors sending a joint letter concluding the Mueller report shows Trump committed criminal obstruction.

It includes a prosecutor who advised -- who advised the House GOP during Watergate, Bill Weld.  He was counsel of the 1974 House Judiciary Committee.  So there are some former officials standing up to Trump regardless of party but most aren`t in Congress as you probably know and are not taking larger actions that could impact Trump`s actual standing in the party.

Are there Republicans who would actually challenge Trump`s path to reelection?  After all, last time around virtually every prominent Republican was on the record slamming Donald Trump as a disastrous cook who had nothing to do with the true Republican Party.  And those are their words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I think he`s a cook.  I think he`s crazy.  I think he`s unfit for office.

(CROSSTALK)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR, FLORIDA:  I`m sick and tired of him going after my family.  While Donald Trump was building a reality T.V. show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):  There is no way we are going to allow a con artist to take over the conservative movement, and Donald Trump is a con artist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  A con artist, on-the-record, adult statements from adults who of course -- of course have gone pretty silent on this.  But there is a Republican who actually just jumped in to challenge Trump`s path to the Republican nomination, a former governor, former federal prosecutor, Republican Party veteran who served as counsel of the House Judiciary Committee as we just mentioned.

And while it is very early, he clearly has some in the party nervous rushing to change how delegates are awarded to protect Donald Trump and he has the large 2020 Democratic field grinning over some political science like this sitting president often lose after facing serious primary challenges if they are bruised enough on their way to the nomination.

Bill Weld joins me now, a former governor, a former U.S. Attorney appointment by President Reagan, and a current candidate running against Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican Party nomination.  Thanks for being here.

BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you, Ari.  My pleasure.

MELBER:  Why do you think you have a chance at actually becoming the nominee and stopping Donald Trump who`s the sitting president.

WELD:  So I kind of think the facts are on my side.  You know, they say in the law, if the facts are on your side, pound on the facts.  If the law is on your side, pound on the law.  If neither one is on your side, pound on the table.  I don`t have to pound on the table.  I can pound on the facts.  And today`s 400 prosecutors saying that they agree with me that the facts in Volume two of the Mueller report constitute criminal obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump which is what they said, that helps.

MELBER:  You talk about that.  What is the case in your view for Donald Trump obstructing justice if as so many Republicans are emphasizing, that`s your party, well there wasn`t a chargeable conspiracy.

WELD:  Well, there was.  I mean, I think it`s clear that my old friend Bill Barr has said to my old friend Bob Mueller, I`m not going to let you charge this guy, if you do I`m going to squash it.  So Mueller was left with no recourse but to set out all the evidence which he did.  But to say we decided not to make a federal prosecutor judgment.

The -- what the 300 or 400 prosecutors said today is if you read the principles of federal prosecution which govern charging decisions, this is a clear case for obstruction of justice under those principles.  It`s not even close, many of them said so.

MELBER:  In your view, how do you convince the Republican primary voters that that`s the issue they should care about.  Because I just showed the if anything, they`re turning against that argument right now.

WELD:  Well, you know, a year is a long time in national politics and sometimes there`s a sober second thought of the community and things seep into the water table as it were and that could well happen.

I also think that you know, I`ve been one who`ve been agreeing with Steny Hoyer and others that impeachment might not be a wise thing to do right now because the president might you know, not get convicted because of not 67 votes in the Senate, and then he would declare victory just before the election.  I don`t know.  This stuff is pretty tough.

And you know, Bill Barr essentially daring Congress to hold him in contempt of Congress which was article three of impeachment against Richard Nixon that I worked on back in 1974, that`s tough stuff.  It may be --

MELBER:  So you look at -- you look at the way Barr is acting and that is pushing you closer towards being open to impeachment or something --

WELD:  Yes, I think -- I think it deserves re-examination, the I-word.  And I`ve been -- I`ve been against it.

MELBER:  Everything I`ve read is that you have not supported impeachment up until this --

WELD:  No, no, that`s right.  I mean, a year ago I thought yes, maybe.  But as we got closer, I thought it was bad for political reasons not for legal reasons.  But if the President and the A.G. are simply going to thumb their nose at Congress and say we`re not going to play, and that`s what the president says.  He says, we`re not going to comply with any subpoenas because they`re partisan, they`re Democrats, remember.  We hate that.  That`s what the president said.

It`s clear to me he`s not going to join issue on any substantive issue.  He just wants to interfere with the ordinary workings of the Constitution and that`s quintessential impeachable offense so you may have to rethink that.

MELBER:  So you -- so you are open to impeachment now?

WELD:  Well, I think it needs a little rethinking in view of the brazenness of the response by both the President and you know, my friend Bill Barr about --

MELBER:  It seems -- it seems that you as a veteran from DOJ, it seems the DOJ is a little bit like the CIA in American life where if you don`t have to think about it, it kind of recedes.  And then when America is spending a lot of time debating it, it`s usually a sign that something`s up.  That was the case and Watergate.  It`s certainly a lot of Americans feel right now.

And so with that in mind, the question of what does it take for people to stand up, career prosecutors, career civil servants.  You did something that so many people are calling on certain Trump officials to do now.  I want to take a look at sound from you.  This was in 1988, March 29th, when you resigned from a very senior position of the Justice Department in protest over the then Attorney General`s conduct.  Let`s take a look at the flashback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WELD:  I resigned on March 29th, 1988 effective immediately because I had come to the conclusion that the tenure of Mr. Meese as head of the department was having and would continue to have as long as he held that office a pronounced negative impact upon the department.

The question is whether Mr. Meese is taking official actions that he knows are going to redound to the financial benefit of his friend and I suggest that he did so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Is that an important part of your public service that people should look to as what`s different from you and Trump?

WELD:  You can`t stay in office in the Justice Department if above you things are going on that you feel are inconsistent with the rule of law.  If people above you were saying let`s have a government of men and not of laws, you have to resign, and so I did.

MELBER:  Simply put.  Let me talk to you a little bit about your platform.  You are pro-choice, you are pro-same-sex marriage, you`re for legalizing pot, you`re for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, and you`re a big critic of Donald Trump.  At what point do you have to convince Republican primary voters that you`re in the right primary?

WELD:  I think some of those issues are going to grow bigger.  I honestly know that climate change is not everybody`s favorite issue but it`s very serious and it`s not a hoax.  And president Trump has a one-word slogan against it hoax.  It`s like wall and immigration, but he doesn`t want to face the facts.

And I think over time that sort of thing is going to become more evident and what`s that going to mean to the Millennials and the (INAUDIBLE) just level-headed people.  They`re going to have to come to terms with the fact that our shorelines are going to be rearranged, there`s going to be no more snow in the White Mountains, all the mountain glaciers are going to melt, 300 million people are going to be without water.  You know, I`m not making this up.

MELBER:  No.  No, you`re not.  And on the politics, before I let you go, what state would be your best shot to win in the primary?

WELD:  My favorite state to win is the great state of New Hampshire.  Live free or die, baby.

MELBER:  And you think if you -- if you get close to a win there, then everyone in the Republican Party gives you a second look?

WELD:  Well, I hope they`ll give me a second look maybe before then, but certainly in New Hampshire has a lot of resonance.  And the Trump people tried to cancel the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary this year.  That didn`t get too far in New Hampshire.  So that shows you that not everybody always doing what Mr. Trump wants.

MELBER:  And does that show you that some of Trump`s allies are scary if they`d rather cancel an election than hold one?

WELD:  I don`t know what they`re scared of.  Probably not me, but they sure don`t want an election.

MELBER:  Governor Bill Weld, thank you for coming on THE BEAT, the first time.

WELD:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  We`ll have you back if you`ll rejoin us.  We`ll fit in a quick break and then an important story about a major boycott for Donald Trump as Democrats probe the Puerto Rico hurricane response of this administration, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:   Today, House Democrats moving forward on an investigation into the Trump Administration`s very controversial hurricane response, discussing Donald Trump`s in their view, "abominable handling of the storms that devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017."

Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of that catastrophic storm.  Many Americans still grappling with food shortages across the island.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is where I get my water.  I got a few cans.  Some to take -- the big ones to take showers.  This the little bit of food that I have.  This is where I shower.

I pay my taxes during all of this year, you know, and I was thinking like I deserve the help, and they`re not helping me, you know.  I don`t want to beg no more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  A bill to provide disaster funds nationwide has also stalled.  President Trump clashing with Democrats in Congress about whether or how to provide this financial assistance to Puerto Rico.  Democrats now giving the Trump Administration a two-week deadline to respond to the investigative demands for documents to get to the bottom of what went wrong.  A story that we will stay on.

Now, before we go tonight, when we come back, you`re going to hear what Tiger Woods just said while accepting the Medal of Freedom at the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  And now some White House festivities I mentioned we`ve been keeping an eye on for you this hour.  President Trump just honored golf legend Tiger Woods presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER:  To have the support that I`ve had for all these years, and everyone here has seen and been with me for -- some of you for my entire life.  You`ve seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, and I would not be in this position without all of your help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Tiger Woods opening up about that honor.  He is the fourth golfer to have ever received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

That does it for us.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

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