CHUCK TODD, HOST, MTP DAILY: To get as a journalist when you're advocating for freedom of the press. And guess what, Mr. President, freedom of the press means the freedom to do good stories and bad ones. Congrats, Andrea.
That's all for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow with MEET THE PRESS DAILY. "THE BEAT" starts right now. My friend Chris Jansing is in for Ari. Hello, Chris.
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Hello there. Thank you, Chuck. Congratulations, Andrea. Nobody is more deserving.
I am Chris Jansing in tonight for Ari covering a lot of developing stories.
Calls for impeachment hit the Senate floor. We'll show you Senator Warren's fiery speech.
Plus, President Trump reportedly stewing for days over Bob Mueller testifying and the Trump inaugural organizer says the White House threw her under the bus. President Obama's inaugural chair joins us.
But we begin tonight just hours away from House Democrats vote on whether to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over the full unredacted Mueller report. Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler's staff sitting down with Barr's team briefly, trying to work out a last-minute compromise but that meeting lasted only 30 minutes.
And just moments ago, Nadler said the contempt vote is still scheduled. Barr would be only the second attorney general ever held in contempt and Democrats also reportedly considering a contempt vote against former White House Counsel Don McGahn after he refused today to comply with a request for documents.
The White House saying McGahn does not have the legal right to disclose these documents and arguing that Democrats should have asked the White House for them instead. Well, the standoff raises the possibility that they would invoke executive privilege.
If that's not enough, there is a third fight looming after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who was at the White House today refused to turn over Trump's tax returns saying they cannot lawfully fulfill the committee's request, even though the law clearly allows Congress to request anyone's tax returns.
And in the midst of all of this, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling Democrats to move on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Yet on the central question, the special counsel finding is clear. Case closed. Case closed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Well, Democratic leaders firing back that the case is still open.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP.NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Senator McConnell is reported to be saying it doesn't matter if we hear from Mueller. Case closed. Case closed.
No, I don't think so. I don't think so. Just as a matter of observation, that's just not a fact. The case is not closed.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Our leader says let's move on? It is sort of like Richard Nixon saying let's move on at the height of the investigation of his wrongdoing. Of course, he wants to move on. He wants to cover up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: And while Democratic leaders are careful to avoid calling for impeachment, those calls are getting louder in some parts of the party, including from presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren who made her argument today on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We took an oath not to try to protect Donald Trump. We took an oath to protect and serve the Constitution of the United States of America. And the way we do that is we begin impeachment proceedings now against this president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: With me with a lot to talk about, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, former Federal Prosecutor Paul Butler and "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg.
This is an extraordinary series of simultaneous showdowns between the executive branch and the legislative branch, the White House resisting on multiple fronts. But tomorrow, there will be that contempt vote. It will almost certainly pass and then head to the full House.
So, Joyce, is what we're witnessing here no less than a possible, I don't know, redefinition of the separation of powers? Are we in the middle of a super stress test of this entire system?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S ATTORNEY: I think that's exactly right, Chris. We're watching a situation where the traditional view that we have three co-equal branches of government, that view that the founding fathers used to create our Constitution, we're moving forward into an era where that may not be how this government is configured going forward.
We have an attorney general who is on record is having a very expansive view of executive power. He now seems to be driving that truck a little bit, along with the president who has autocratic tendencies.
And what we'll have to look for very carefully in the next days and weeks is whether the institutions are strong enough to hold, whether the courts and the legislative branch can stand up to a runaway executive.
JANSING: And we're seeing some of the nervousness from the White House. Trump clearly nervous about Mueller they're asking for White House documents, and notes on discussions about Michael Flynn, James Comey, Jeff Sessions, Bob Mueller, Paul Manafort, the Trump Tower meeting, and Michael Cohen.
And then in a letter to the white -- in a letter, the White House counsel said, "Look, if you want this stuff, talk to us, the White House, not McGahn." Paul, what was that about?
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So what the White House is saying is that if the documents are going to come from somebody, they just kind of loaned them to McGahn and so McGahn give them back and let the White House work out the situation, claiming executive privilege, they're saying at some point we might claim executive privilege.
The president has talked so much about these issues but he's probably waived it. The whole purpose of executive privilege is for the president to be able to talk to his advisors, have private conversations. But if this information becomes public, then the approval is no longer applied.
Again, when the president allowed the redacted Mueller report to go public without objecting, you have the opportunity to object, executive privilege is gone. It will go to the court.
That's how the Congress and the president will resolve this or not resolve it. They'll let a judge resolve it. That could take months. The strategy is to run out the clock until the 2020 election.
JANSING: What if McGahn wants to talk? I mean he is in private practice now. He could also be held in contempt for doing what the White House wants him to do.
And then like who pays his legal bills? There are all kinds of questions. If Don McGahn wants to go before Congress, can he?
VANCE: He can. He could absolutely be a true patriot, go in front of Congress, testify, provide documents but we've seen indications that he won't.
Shortly after the White House released its demand that Congress negotiate with it and not with McGahn, his lawyer released a statement indicating he was caught between the presidency and the Congress. And that for now, he would follow the White House's wishes. So it is a little bit early to pin our hopes on Don McGahn standing up having a country over party moment.
JANSING: Yes. And I guess a problem for Democrats right now, Michelle, is if the witnesses either can't talk or won't talk, where does that leave them? What do you see happening?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I mean I don't think it's just a problem for Democrats, it's a problem for the country, right, where you have this crisis, that you have this executive branch that is just flatly refusing to comply with the law, flatly ignoring subpoenas.
In Steve Mnuchin's case, the law is clear. And he is simply saying that he is not going to obey it and try to make me, right. And so the next step is, yes, they hold them in contempt.
But who enforces a criminal contempt citation? Bob Barr's Justice Department, right? So that's not going to happen.
Then they kind of can do is hold a contempt citation, they're going to go to court. Ultimately, a lot of this stuff is going to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court where Donald Trump's nominees - Donald Trump has been able to put people on the Supreme Court, not just towards sort of far right Republican apparatchiks but are known for their expansive view of presidential power and executive privilege.
And so it's like all the guardrails that were supposed to keep the system in balance, that were supposed to make sure that an autocratic president could not run rough shod over our system of government are failing. And it's kind of up to Congress to assert itself, to use whatever levers it can find to push back against this power grab.
JANSING: Which is exactly the argument that Elizabeth Warren was making.
GOLDBERG: I mean I think she's a hundred percent right. And I think that I understand why Democrats have wanted to avoid impeachment because they feel like the time is running out on this presidency anyway and they see the polls that showed that it is unpopular. And they don't really want to lead the country in making the case for it.
But ultimately, there's only one legal process to deal with an administration like this. And even if it doesn't ultimately lead to his removal, it is the system by which you compel all of this information to become public.
JANSING: Well, she mentioned Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary. And then he's like, you know, you have no right to these tax returns, Donald Trump's tax returns. Specifically, what he wrote is that their request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.
I suppose that he's decided that he's going to make that decision about what is a legitimate legislative purpose and amounts to exposure for the sake of exposure. So what happens here?
BUTLER: So again, the treasury secretary's argument is just flat out wrong. On a legal basis, the law is very clear the treasury secretary really the IRS commissioner must hand over tax returns to the chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee.
So if he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on once again, he'll take it to the courts. It will be a long, drawn out proceeding. Ultimately, Congress will prevail. But you know the expression. Justice denied is justice delayed. Trump is all about delay, delay, delay.
JANSING: One other top Democrats, Joyce, on the Ways and Means Committee said it is unprecedented that Mnuchin is refusing what he called a lawful request. And "if these guys think they can outlast us with these tactics, they're dead wrong. We're not going anywhere."
But how long could this take? We mentioned this before. Is this just a tactic to try to run out the chock until 2020?
VANCE: This is why I think what Michelle says is so accurate and in many ways so frightening. We have to rely on the courts to hold firm here. And there's abundant precedent for the courts to expedite a process like this, speeding a case along through the different levels of appeal so it can reach the Supreme Court for a prompt decision.
We don't have any way of knowing if that will happen here. And it's possible that the president could delay this. Other that, delay could perhaps boomerang on him if the case is decided in the heat of an election and all of a sudden, Trump's tax returns are revealed.
Paul is absolutely right when he says the law here isn't even a close call. The chairman of the House and Ways Committee is entitled to these tax returns. The IRS nor the treasury secretary has the right to look behind the legitimacy of their request and their abundant reasons that the commission needs them legitimately.
They should be turned over forthwith. And this is just another example of the crises this presidency has created.
JANSING: Well, let's talk a little bit more about this because it was just reported today, while we're having a stand-off over the federal income tax returns, New York State lawmakers are expected to advance a bill that would at least allow Congressional committees to see the state tax returns the.
We know that there are a whole bunch of different ways that people are trying to get into various parts of this investigation. But I want to go back to what you said earlier, Michelle, which is that a lot of Democrats out there, rank and file Democrats, who have only one requirement for 2020. That is to beat Donald Trump, believe that all of this activity is at cross purposes.
GOLDBERG: I mean frankly, I think they're wrong. And I think that part of -- and I also think it is a mistake for Democratic leaders to take their cues from the polls, right.
I mean I think that one of the reasons Democrats might believe this activity is at cross purposes is because their leaders aren't out there making the case for why this is necessary. I think -- look at what happened to Hillary Clinton --
JANSING: Well, they're in fact holding back for reasons that they're concerned that what the voters really want is they want to hear about the economy. They want to hear about health care. They want to hear about climate change.
GOLDBERG: Yes. But the sad fact is that Democrats aren't going to make progress on ay of those issues legislatively under this president either, right. That's as much of a fantasy as the fantasy that the Senate is going to vote to remove the president.
And so I mean look at how much the Benghazi investigation, which was completely absurd but which dragged on forever and never sort of had the support of the American people, but ultimately revealed this nugget about Hillary Clinton's e-mails that did immense damage to her.
I just don't -- I mean Donald Trump's approval ratings are already pretty low. Having months of televised hearings laying out this kind of epic corruption. Even just the corruption documented in the Mueller report itself which has over a hundred pages on his -- on the various meetings with Russia between members of his campaign staff and members of his family.
I understand the risk aversion because I understand how crucial this election is in 2020. But it is very hard to make the case I think to the American people that, on the one hand, Donald Trump is an autocratic out of control president who has committed impeachable offenses. And nevertheless, we are not going to impeach him.
JANSING: Quick last question, Paul. Any of this that is all unfolding simultaneously, you see eventually ending up at the Supreme Court?
BUTLER: Yes. I think there are interesting questions with regard to executive privilege. Again, I don't think the tax issue is a hard case. It's clear that Trump's Treasury Department needs to hand over those returns.
JANSING: Although federal courts have in the past said that there are limits on congressional oversight.
BUTLER: There are limits but again, this law itself is very clear. And what they're saying -- what Congress is saying is that they need the tax returns in order to make sure that the president's returns are being audited properly under law. The president, the vice president, their tax returns are automatically audited.
They have no reason to have any good faith about whether that's happening with regard to Trump. It's the Congress's responsibility to do checks and balances and so that's why they need the returns.
JANSING: Paul Butler, Michelle Goldberg, thank you. Joyce Vance, you're going to stay with me.
One programming note, Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Chris Hayes tonight on "ALL IN", 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.
And coming up, new reporting on why President Trump doesn't want Bob Mueller to testify. Also, Speaker Pelosi and Democrats debate the "I" word. How will impeachment actually affect the 2020 presidential race?
And a former aide to Melania Trump said she was thrown under the bus with those investigations into the Trump inauguration. All that, plus a major milestone for comedian Dave Chappell
I'm Chris Jansing, in for Ari Melber. You're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JANSING: Tonight, we're learning just how worried Trump is about Mueller testifying before Congress. Sources telling the "Associated Press" that Trump has stewed for days about media coverage that would be given to Mueller. White House officials worry his gravitas would add weight to some of the politically damaging and embarrassing material about Trump.
And "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman reporting that Trump wasn't just popping off when he tweeted Mueller should not testify but, in fact, for days before the tweets, he had expressed desire to keep Mueller from testifying. That's quite an about face from this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Should Mueller testify? Would you like to see him testify?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. That's up to the attorney General who I think has done a fantastic job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Yes. Now, he's saying no. Well, here's where things stand tonight. Mueller has tentatively agreed to testify in eight days, on May 15. It will be the first time the American public will hear directly from Mueller
And Trump's allies in Congress are fiercely trying to protect him. Here's Mitch McConnell today echoing Senator Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why not call for Mueller to testify?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Because I'm not going to do anymore. Enough already, it's over.
MCCONNELL: The special counsel's finding is clear. Case closed. Case closed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: But as we've seen today, the case is far from closed. And by the way, this is a new video. That's Robert Mueller leaving dinner last night in Georgetown as negotiations for a possible congressional appearance continue.
Joining me now, former Federal Prosecutor Gene Rossi. So Gene, as a prosecutor, if there is so much concern about someone testifying that you're doing and saying everything you possibly can, to keep it from happening, what does that tell you?
GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He is scared. And if I were President Trump, I would be scared. This could be John Dean. Only John Dean wasn't the prosecutor.
In all the trials I had, I was always amazed, absolutely amazed at what a witness says in prep sessions versus how they come across in front of an audience, especially if it's a packed room, courses will be a Senate or a House Committee hearing room.
And Donald trump is a media master. He ran The Apprentice. He knows if Robert Mueller who is respected by a lot of people, including me if he testifies and adds nuance, meat, and description to the footnotes, the sentences, the phraseology in that report, Donald Trump knows that that could be extremely explosive.
And here's what it will cause the American people to do. They will then read the report. I think there was a poll out that 5 percent to 10 percent of the American public has not even read the -- or only read the report. The other 90 percent has not.
People are going to read that report. And if you read that report, Volume I, and especially Volume II, you conclude one thing. This is not how the president of the United States should act. That's why --
JANSING: But let me go back to Mueller testifying. Because let's remember that Trump completely that, time and time again that this report totally exonerated him.
JANSING: But I think to your point, there is sort of another nuance that the "A.P." story points out. Trump has long known the power of televised images and feared that Americans would be captivated by seeing and hearing Mueller who has not spoken publicly since being named special counsel.
He was virtually a ghost during the entire time of this investigation. And I wonder -- and this is something else that the "A.P." article raised, is Trump worried about a repeat of Michael Cohen's testimony back in February?
I mean do you think that that would be comparable? So many people watching. So many people finding that witness credible.
ROSSI: Yes, absolutely, Chris. This could be Michael Cohen two, times three because Michael Cohen, we all know, had problems. OK. Putting it mildly.
He pleaded guilty to perjury, lying, and tax fraud. And some people say he continued that lying before the committee. But also, Donald trump remembers Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. And after her testimony, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination was hanging in the balance.
And so he knows the power of live television and how that can impact the poll numbers and the perceptions of the American people. And he is afraid that it possibly could be a game changer.
And this is the other point, Chris. He has put out a narrative. No collusion, no obstruction. If Robert Mueller testifies, you can guarantee he's going to shoot the no collusion and the no obstruction canards and put two holes in their heads.
JANSING: But as you just said, if he testifies. I mean the thing is that at least right now, Mueller still works for the Justice Department and Bill Barr is his boss.
He can say, you can't testify. I mean so you've got Bill Barr who can say you can't testify. He is facing contempt charges from congressional Democrats who are the ones who want to hear from Mueller. I don't know. Is that a little bit of a conflict there?
ROSSI: Well, here's the thing, Chris. You could have a congressional subpoena issued for the testimony of Robert Mueller. And the Congress rightly could argue that executive privilege is trumped for several reasons.
One is the easy one. There is a waiver. And that one is a slam-dunk in my view. Two, the crime fraud exception, he is investigating what he may believe Robert Mueller, his conduct that takes it outside of the privilege.
And the third reason is the privilege is qualified. If there is a public interest that is greater than the president's need for confidential communications, Congress wins and the public wins.
JANSING: Well, ii will be fascinating to see and I think that there is a parallel with the way this testimony will be watched with John Dean, which was, I remember vividly, I was in high school. It was riveting.
ROSSI: I do too.
JANSING: Gene Rossi, thank you so much.
Coming up, the list is ballooning. Over 700 former federal prosecutors now say Trump committed crimes based off the Mueller report. And Senator Warren's call to impeach Trump is sparking a big debate inside the Democratic Party. That when we're back in 30 seconds.
JANSING: Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren delivering a blistering speech attacking Donald Trump's war on the law. And for the first time on the Senate floor, she went there on impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: If any other human being in the country had done what's documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail. This is not about politics. This is about the Constitution of the United States of America.
We took an oath not to try to protect Donald Trump. We took an oath to protect and serve the Constitution of the United States of America. And the way we do that is we begin impeachment proceedings now against this president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Pretty blunt. Warren saying impeachment proceedings should begin now. Speaker Pelosi, of course, has been very careful on impeachment even saying today, Trump is goading Democrats to impeach him.
But she did leave the door open. She says the administration's outright refusal to comply with House subpoenas "could be an impeachable offense." And 2020 candidate Senator Kamala Harris says Congress needs to make a decision on obstruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are talking about such a fundamental issue, which is whether or not the president of the United States obstructed justice. I think it is something that we need to figure out. And Congress has a responsibility to look into it and so I support the effort to actually begin the steps toward figuring out what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: So this is the political backdrop to the massive fight in Washington. And it comes with a rapidly growing list of former federal prosecutors. More than 700 now saying Trump would be hit with multiple felony charges if he was not president. Look how quickly, just from yesterday morning to the afternoon to today, 700 plus.
Back with me is a former federal prosecutor who signed that letter, Joyce Vance, Daniela Gibbs Leger from the Center for American Progress who also served in the Obama administration, and E.J. Dionne, a columnist for "The Washington Post".
I don't know, E.J., does this feel at least in some sense like a turning point to you, the nervousness about impeachment over 2020 political concerns, but now, the White House says no Mueller, no McGahn, no tax returns.
Democrats obviously furious. Prosecutors with that letter offering some legal cover. Do you sense we're moving any closer to impeachment here?
E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean I agree completely with the premise to your question. I think two months ago, a lot of people, and I was one of them, said the country might be better off if Donald Trump were simply defeated at the polls by a huge margin and then we could move on.
Now, because the administration is turning down every single request Congress makes, whether it is for taxes, whether it's for Mueller's testimony, we'll see if they try to block it, or McGahn's testimony or McGahn's documents. This is saying no to every form of accountability. It is more the behavior of a monarch or an authoritarian leader than a president.
And I think you see in Pelosi's comment that you just reported that she who has been very strongly of the view, we're better off beating him at the polls, she wants him on the ticket with the Republicans, is now saying Congress can't just lie down and accept being treated this way because it's not just about treating Congress, it's about fundamental accountability under the Constitution. So yes I think we're closer to impeachment today than we were even a week ago.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, it's worth remembering, Daniela, back in March when Nancy Pelosi kind of set the standard for impeachment. She said at the time "impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path. But are we at that point?
DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You know, I think we're rapidly approaching it. There is some sort of irony in the fact that it is Donald Trump and his administration's behavior in the past couple of weeks that are pushing Democrats who were -- who were a little bit hesitant to say the I-word to say look, we may have no choice but to impeach this president or to start an impeachment referral or start impeachment hearings, because there is something called the rule of law.
I know that Donald Trump seems to think that he's above the law and above the Constitution, but they can't just say no to everything that Congress legally has a right to see or ask for. So I do think that as E.J. said we are much closer today towards at least beginning impeachment hearings or like more investigations than we were a couple of weeks ago.
JANSING: Joyce, I want to play Neal Katyal. He's talking about the unprecedented nature of this 700-plus signature letter from former federal prosecutors including you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, it's hugely significant. I've never seen anything quite like it. 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 staring down the fallen and staring down the barrel of a federal indictment.
And what you have in this letter is 370 prosecutors saying we agree the Mueller report shows the president is a felon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: So again, 370 yesterday at this hour, now 700. So Joyce, summarized the case because clearly, this has momentum.
JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST TRANSCRIPT: The striking thing about this letter is not that it was signed by political appointees, although there are some people like me who were U.S. attorneys on it. What's striking is it's signed by career people by line prosecutors by criminal chiefs who every day are charged with evaluating the evidence in a case and making a decision about whether to indict.
And here, an extraordinarily large number of prosecutors has looked at the evidence laid out in the Mueller report and said you know, I would indict this case. And that's an important decision because these are people who just by their training, by their practice leave their politics at the door when they walk inside of their offices at the Justice Department and look just at the law and the facts.
They're not saying that the President is guilty, they're saying that they believe that there is sufficient evidence to bring an indictment.
JANSING: Were you surprised that it's gone up to 700 because I was a little stunned when I heard the number.
VANCE: I wasn't surprised at all. And in fact, I noticed that several of my predecessors in North Alabama are on the list as are prosecutors from across the country. Many of them people with 20, 30 even in a couple of cases 40-plus years' experience at DOJ. This is really a rising up of the career folks at the Justice Department in support of this proposition.
I suspect that if people who were still working at DOJ had the ability to sign this, we would see significant numbers there as well.
JANSING: Wow, a rising up. Well, Daniela, take a listen to 2020 Republican challenger, former Governor Bill Weld who also signed this letter talked about impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: And Daniella, expand a little bit on something we've touched on which I think is a central question here now in Washington, this conflict between what on one side is a political imperative for people who believe the president committed crimes as well as constitutional imperative, but for Democrats who believe the path to victory is the issues, it's a different kind of calculus.
LEGER: Yes, you know in D.C. you can never separate the politics from anything but you know, I would encourage you know, my Democratic friends to really think through what's at stake here. The American people deserve to have a full and open hearing and understanding of what is in this report.
And I think once the American people fully understand everything that has happened, all the contacts, all the obstruction that is clearly laid out that 700 you know, DOJ -- former DOJ and prosecutors have signed on and said they think is obstruction. Once the American people actually hear that and understand that, I think some of those political concerns may go by the wayside.
But you know, at the end of the day, like Democrats were elected to you know, be a check on Donald Trump. They won the House by record numbers because people wanted there to be a body that stood up to Donald Trump and also you know put forth policies that would make the American people's lives better.
So I think that Democrats sometimes have to get out of their heads a little bit and understand what's really at stake. We are facing a constitutional crisis and it's important for there to be an open hearing of everything that happened with the Mueller investigation.
JANSING: I also find it really interesting earlier this week, E.J., when Nancy Pelosi was talking to the New York Times and she suggested that she thinks Trump might try to contest the results of the 2020 election if it's a really close margin.
Here's what she told them. "If we win by four seats by a thousand votes each, he's not going to respect the election. He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races. He would say you can't seat these people." What do you make of that?
DIONNE: Well, I agree with her. In fact, Trump said the other day that he's lost two years so he's owed two years more. So I don't think that's - - I think Pelosi is on to something.
JANSING: He was robbed, E.J., he was robbed.
DIONNE: Exactly, and that I think that you know, in any event, in order to govern ourselves this margin has to be big so everybody in the country can say we're done with this. I think with Pelosi on impeachment, the refusal to let witnesses appear, the refusal to hand over documents has kind of wrecked the strategy she had in mind.
What she had in mind is we won't impeach but we will have hearings. We're going to instruct the public on what is in the Mueller report and let them decide and then and only then will we face the impeachment question.
But with Trump with a sense of television, he knows that this television show would not be good for him so he's trying to block all the characters from appearing on the show and that's why I think she has to reconsider the strategy that she would prefer but may not have available to her.
JANSING: Yes, she keeps -- in the back of her head, she keeps thinking he's goading us, he's goading us. We shouldn't play into it. Tough, tough, tough times but also important ones for the decision-makers. E.J. always great to see you.
DIONNE: Always a joy.
JANSING: Daniella, Joyce, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Ahead, a major honor for comedian Dave Chappelle, hasn't going home to D.C. But first, Melania Trump's former friend and Trump inauguration organizer says she was thrown under the bus. That's next.
MELBER: Someone who was a top organizer for Trump's inauguration has turned on the White House. Stephanie Wolkoff, a longtime friend of Melania Trump telling the New York Times she was thrown under the bus disputing White House claims that she was fired last year from her unpaid role advising Melania, and pushing back against anonymous White House officials who accused her of profiting from the inauguration.
Here's the quote. "Was I fired? No. Did I personally receive $26 million or $1.6 million? No. Was I thrown under the bus? Yes." Here's the thing Stephanie Wolkoff is talking to investigators with the Southern District of New York who are looking into the inauguration. A probe triggered by the federal raid of Michael Cohen's office. That raid uncovered recordings that Cohen had made of Wolkoff talking about her concerns about the inaugural committee's spending.
The news tonight, just a day after Cohen went to prison, another former Trump loyalist is breaking with team Trump and not pulling any punches. Joining me Steve Kerrigan who was President and CEO of President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Committee. Steve, thanks for coming in. Look, you know better than anybody what's involved in running an inaugural. So what would Wolkoff potentially know that would be of interest to SDNY?
STEVE KERRIGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S 2013 INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: How all that money was spent, and she says that she didn't personally get $26 million and she didn't get personally $1.6 million of that money. But if she didn't get it who did? I mean, the clearest answered all of this and what she can be most helpful with to SDNY is to go through all of the financials of how that $107 million are spent.
I mean, this was either a colossal mismanaged inaugural that spends more than we spent on both of President Obama's inaugurations in '09 and '13. It was either mismanaged or frankly, it is just an inaugural slush fund that was put there to pad the pockets of all of the president and the first lady's friends and business partners.
JANSING: I mean, look at that graphic. $107 million, the other -- going back to Clinton, dwarfed by that number. Again, I mean, even before any legal questions were raised, did you see that number and say what the heck are they spending all that money on?
KERRIGAN: Yes, it was egregious from day one. I mean it's -- and it's a recipe by the way for corruption. Because the rules around transparency for inaugural funds are almost non-existent, and frankly the Congress should be acting on that.
KERRIGAN: Yes. It's really -- it's egregious that the Congress of the United States -- and they are working on it. HR-1 has some language in it that they took up about inaugural funding, but really Congress should put in place and transparency rules. Right now, you're supposed to report all of the donations that you receive as a committee and only the top five expenditures that you make.
And you spend $107 million, his top five were all in the $20-$25 million expenses and within those are $500,000 we know for a fact went directly to miss Wolkoff as a payment to her which by the way $500,000 is more than the entire senior staff made at the 2009 inauguration for President Obama, the entire 12 person junior staff --
JANSING: That was their salary?
KERRIGAN: I know. Believe me. I'd be doing inaugurals every four years for the rest of my life if it was but it wasn't. I mean, that's what this comes out it. We need to see -- we need to have transparency because when there is not transparency, is when we have all kinds of opportunities.
$2.7 million paid to support performers who are coming to the inauguration that Steve Wynn brought with him from Las Vegas. I mean, you've got Tom Barrack who by the way should be looking for buses like the one that Miss Wolkoff got thrown under left right and center because that man had a dinner where they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the inaugural funds to carpet the place, the Mellon Auditorium where they had a dinner for the chairman of the inaugural.
The inaugurals are there to celebrate a peaceful transition of power not to pad Tom Barracks personal pocket by giving him business opportunities to invite a thousand guests that will help him in his business later.
JANSING: I've only got 30 seconds left but Wolkoff said she did not discuss the inaugural spending with The Times because she signed an NDA non-disclosure agreement saying, "If the committee were to release me from this obligation, I would be able to speak freely without the fear of legal or financial repercussions." Are NDAs common for inauguration officials? Did you have to sign one?
KERRIGAN: So I checked with a few of the folks who worked with me in '09 and in '13, I don't remember signing them, maybe we did. But certainly, the intent if we have them was to keep planning private before the inauguration so it's not so creating security risk and not to protect somebody from legal liability when it comes to graft and misspending of money.
I'll tell you, the people are dispensable to the Trump family, and frankly, that's something that people like Tom Barrack and Steve Mnuchin should be looking out as they are frankly obstructing Congress in the actions that they're taking. But this is really -- transparency would really help solve all of these problems but we're never going to get that out of Donald Trump or his administration.
And hopefully, in a couple years, we'll have a Democratic inauguration that can help hit the reset button for the United States of America.
JANSING: And I'll just make note of the fact that you are in fact still in touch with and clearly friendly with people you worked with on the inaugurals. Steve Kerrigan, thank you so much. Still ahead, it was one of the wildest Midterm elections and it's not over. News on the fight in North Carolina.
JANSING: There's no drama to tell you about tonight in what was already one of the most dramatic congressional elections in 2018. I'm talking about North Carolina's Ninth District. Now, remember, this was the first case of election fraud to actually result in a new election.
Back in November, Democrat Daniel McCready lost the election to Republican candidate Mark Harris by 900 votes. But accusations of ballot tampering from a Republican operative caused the elections board to decertify the results. Then it all blew up because of emotional and gripping testimony from Mark Harris's own son who said he warned his father before the election that the aide was doing something wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you had suspicions from -- about McCrae Dowless from the start?
JOHN HARRIS, SON OF MARK HARRIS: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you've expressed that to your father.
HARRIS: I did. I love my dad and I love my mom, OK. I think they made mistakes in this process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Well, after that, Harris dropped out and on Tuesday, this Tuesday Republicans are in a fierce battle to run against McCready who was on the beat back then talking about the importance of this election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN MCCREADY (D-NC), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: People are saying this is the largest case of election fraud in living memory. You had a situation of covering up of e-mails, of lying on the stand, of week early voting information to Mark Harris' campaign. This really goes to, I think, what does it mean to live in a democracy. What does it mean to be an American?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Well, McCready was running on a post in the Democratic primary but ten Republicans running in the primary and if any one of them gets 30 percent of the vote, they'll avoid a runoff. Right now, only one candidate has that, State Senator Dan Bishop. He's the frontrunner polling at 31 percent so obviously narrowly passing that 30 percent threshold, and he has more than a ten-point lead over the candidate in second place, Stony Rushing.
A couple of points to make about this. First of all, Mark Harris endorsed Rushing in the race, but his campaign ads raised eyebrows after he wore a live snake around his neck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STONY RUSHING (R-NC), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: When you grow up in the country, you learn to deal with things that come out of the swamp. I'm not coming to support lobbyist and insiders. I'm coming to fight for the Ninth District.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Snakes aside, it's good to remember that the leading Republican, once again, that's Dan Bishop, is the very same guy who cosponsored North Carolina's bathroom bill which requires people to use public restrooms match the gender on their birth certificate. That bill caused an uproar, people were canceling things in North Carolina. Since then, it's been partially repealed.
So buckle up. If Bishop wins the primary next week as the polls suggest he will, McCready has made it clear he is ready for a fight and we'll be watching. Ahead, comedian Dave Chappelle is going home to D.C. We'll tell you why.
JANSING: Dave Chappelle is getting the Mark Twain Prize for the humor. The Kennedy Center is saying Chappelle is the embodiment of Mark Twain's observation that against the assault of humor, nothing can stand. Chappelle is making headlines in recent years with his take on Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: I listen to him say naive, poor white people things. Man, Donald Trump is going to go to Washington and he's going to fight for us. I'm standing there thinking in my mind, you dumb (BLEEP). You are poor. He's fighting for me.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END