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Behind the scenes with Sen. Cory Booker. TRANSCRIPT: 5/16/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Juanita Tolliver, Marco Costa, Victoria De Francesco, JonathanCapehart, Tony Schwartz, Sherrilyn Ifill

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  So I can`t resolve it today.  If we just put a timer on these things --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We only have two more minutes.

TODD:  Two more minutes, we would resolve it, and the whole system of checks and balances would be restored.  We`ll try that next time.  Tom, I got to thank you.  Matthew, Donna, Dan, thank you all.  That`s all we have.  We`ll be back tomorrow with more MEET THE PRESS DAILY.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.  And I know what Ari is probably now going to be leading with if he wasn`t before.  Hello, brother.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  I think that`s fair, brother.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.

TODD:  All right.

MELBER:  We begin on this breaking news in the Michael Flynn case.  There is a brand new court filing in Michael Flynn`s case.  And it just became public moments ago.

This is important because while it overlaps with things we know from the Mueller report, it is a new filing as Chuck Todd was just mentioning.  Mike Flynn, Donald Trump`s former national security adviser telling Mueller`s investigators about specific documented incidents where people linked to the Trump administration may have affected even his willingness to cooperate.

Mueller spelling out the details in his report that includes a transcript of a voicemail that one of Trump`s own personal criminal defense attorneys left for Flynn`s lawyer.  It asked for information and the voicemail.

Here again, from the report in the filing, said, "If there is information that implicates the president, we`ve got a national security issue.  So you know, we need some kind of heads up.  Just for the sake of protecting all of our interests, if we can.  Remember that we`ve always said about the president and his feelings toward Flynn, and that still remains."

These new revelations of how the president`s team were trying to engage in these high-level discussions with an individual who now had an obligation to Mueller.  The question being, were those efforts to potentially obstruct or thwart the Mueller probe?

Now, this is interesting because some of this may sound familiar to you because we`ve been hearing about it.  But it comes now in a backdrop where the Democratic Party and congressional leaders are openly discussing what to do about both congressional stonewalling and the hangover from what the Mueller report showed.  All of which has people talking about the "I" word.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The president`s policy now, the president`s posture now, is making it impossible to rule out impeachment or anything else.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, I think there`s -- yes, there are ground for impeachment.  If you look at the second part of the Mueller report, there is no question that obstruction of justice does exist.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I think the president every day gives grounds for impeachment in terms of his obstruction of justice.


MELBER:  I want to get right to it with Juanita Tolliver, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  And Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" who has been a chronicler of the Trump presidency, as well as its interaction with the Mueller probe from its inception.  Good evening to both of you.



MELBER:  Juanita, what do you think of the significance of what we`re seeing in these details in the Flynn filing against this wider backdrop, as we just saw, including the former Obama A.G. Eric Holder, speaking by my account more forthrightly than he ever has today on what he called "grounds for impeachment".

TOLLIVER:  It is absolutely clear that with Trump`s blanket rejection of all these document requests from Congress, that he is hiding something.  This evidence of his team coordinating as it relates to the Mueller report.

And everything that Mueller even laid out in his report all points to an effort to really interfere and be engaged in an unproductive way that should be raising flags for American people.  And honestly, at this point, if Congress is not allowed to move forward, it really shows that Trump is using his leverage to operate as a dictator would, as a tyrant would.

And that`s really dangerous because Congress has the legal authority to hold him accountable.  They have the legal authority to request these documents.  And this new report really highlights that they should be able to move forward.

MELBER:  Bob, take us inside the White House based on your reporting and against a backdrop where there has been, I think it is fair to say, some moving of the goalposts.  And Mr. Barr has tried to put his view of things out in Washington as the first draft of history.

They haven`t yet let Bob Mueller set a date for testimony but then Barr today, in reports coming out today, says he`s not blocking Mueller`s testimony to Congress saying, "It is Bob`s call whether he wants to testify."

COSTA:  And there`s a lot of pressure on the attorney general to allow Mr. Mueller to testify.  With regard to this breaking news on General Flynn and his interaction and his team`s interactions with the president`s lawyers, there is a feeling inside of this White House that they have a blind spot when it comes to some of these obstruction questions.

What I mean by that is, there are personal lawyers for the president who have been on the outside.  An ever-changing cast at times from John Dowd and Ty Cobb to Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow who have had exchanges and interactions with witnesses in the Mueller probe, whether it was Michael Cohen or Michael Flynn and others.

And those conversations are not always known or really understood inside of this administration.  And they feel like as this obstruction investigation moves forward on Capitol Hill, the president`s personal lawyers will be under more scrutiny by Democrats.

MELBER:  Well, I want to ask you about that.  You`re talking about a blind spot.  One of the things that come through to me and I`m curious what you think having talked to a lot of these folks is, there was kind of an apparent fear that Donald Trump may have actually done more than Mueller found that he did, did something worse than what part one of the report says.

Now that we know it all.  Because you can see I think quite clearly the panic in that voicemail.  Lawyers don`t want to generally leave a voicemail like that.  They want a live call.

They know that a cooperating witness and his lawyers will have every incentive to turn over the voicemail and the material.  And you get the question of, hey, you know, what does Flynn have?  What do you know that could really hurt the boss?

And I say to you, how did they get so nervous unless they didn`t believe what Trump was telling them, which is that part one of the Mueller report would suggest that there was not a quid pro quo that was chargeable in Russia.

COSTA:  They`ve been nervous since day one because they know how the president operates in this extemporaneous style.  Often not briefing his own aides about who he`s talking to, what he`s saying, even when it comes to things like foreign policy.

He has phone calls with friends, associates, builds his own perspectives on different issues, and doesn`t always bring in the formal circle of people that a president would bring in to this decision-making process.  And because of that, they didn`t feel exposure inside of this White House about not really knowing the full context of every conversation he had with many of these witnesses during the course of the transition and early on in the presidency.

MELBER:  Yes.  I mean, Juanita, to simplify it a little bit, I don`t want to put words in Bob`s mouth.  But I`m saying this, you hear what he just said and you get the feeling that the one thing that like the resistance and Rudy Giuliani agree on is you cannot really trust Trump.

TOLLIVER:  Can`t trust Trump.  He`s lied to the American public.  He`s apparently lying to his own attorneys to the point where they`re all trying to scramble and figure out what he has omitted from their conversations.  And honestly, it really lays the foundation that Congress should be able to move forward to find the truth.

We all need to hear from Mueller in a public testimony.  We all need to get to the bottom of this.

MELBER:  Yes, it`s a big story and it is why it was our breaking news lead.  Bob Costa, thank you for jumping in with us.  Juanita, stay with me.

Because the other big story with these investigations twirling is the president stepping out today, proposing a plan that would basically require a lot more cooperative relationship with Congress than what he has.  As we have just been discussing, this is an immigration plan that would try to increase what the White House calls the education and skills requirements for incoming immigrants.

It would also attempt to build parts of Trump`s famous border wall that would also keep immigration levels in their broad numbers as the same as they are now.  Changing the categories of who might get into the country.

Now, as you know, anything Donald Trump says on immigration tends to be polarizing.  This plan today has already managed to draw rebukes from both parties.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT):  This sham proposal is dead on arrival.  It is a mockery of what America needs.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  The White House`s plan is not designed to become law.


MELBER:  Also today, we`re learning that the Trump administration wants to use executive power to try to have the U.S. Military erect tent cities to detain immigrants.  Reporters uncovered this comment as well from January.  This is from Donald Trump`s nominee to lead I.C.E.


MARK MORGAN, FORMER BORDER PATROL CHIEF:  I`ve been to detention facilities where I`ve walked up to these individuals that are so-called minors, 17 or under.  And I`ve looked at them and I`ve looked at their eyes, Tucker, and I said that is a soon to be MS13 gang member.  It is unequivocal.


MELBER:  Soon to be gang member.  I want to bring in Victoria De Francesco, a professor at the University of Texas.  Juanita, of course, still with us.

Victoria, put this into context for us.  Anyone watching, even if you land from Mars tonight, right now, and only saw this much of the news, you`d say well, there`s this huge clash over potential impeachment.  There`s this stonewalling of Congress on its basic oversight.  And then there`s the president stepping out today and saying he`s got a plan and he wants to work with Congress on it.

Walk us through that apparent tension as well as what is in the plan itself in your view.

VICTORIA DE FRANCESCO, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS:  Right, Ari.  So immigration has always been the president`s safe space.  This is what he built his campaign on from day one when he announced that he was going to be running for presidency.

So a couple of different moving parts.  The Rose Garden speech today was about a legal immigration plan.  It`s really a refried component of the Gang of Eight Bill from a couple of years ago that said we want more merit- based immigration as opposed to family reunification.

But it is a no go because both sides of the aisle are not happy with it.  He`s not giving Democrats what they want in terms of resolving the undocumented population and how we normalize that, or the DACA recipients, or asylum seekers.

And the right -- the bases this is way too liberal.  You`re giving away too much.  So on that part, we`re seeing --

MELBER:  So is it -- so on that substance, to your point, does it have in your view progressive ingredients?  And what are people to make of the idea of, oh well, keep numbers the same but have more "skilled migrants".  Tell us what you think about that.

DE FRANCESCO:  Right.  And I`m just going based off of history here.  So in 2013, the Gang of Eight Bill did that give and take.  They were able to get a bill passed, a bipartisan bill in the Senate saying we`re going to tamp down family reunification but there`s going to be a path for legalization for these 11 million undocumented persons who are here.

So but without that component, it is dead on arrival.  You have to have give and take and there is no give in this component.  There is been a lot of bellyaching about family-based reunification for decades in this country.  Even though I`m just going to throw it in there, Ari, Melania`s parents were naturalized as a result of family-based reunification but I get off topic.

In terms of family-based reunification, this is going to be a really tough one because, for the Democratic Party, this is a core issue that they`re going to fight through the nail unless there is something really substantive in return.

MELBER:  And while I have you, one of the things I was wondering is, you know, reading the "New York Times" account today, they mentioned, well, if you`ve implemented this and you`ve just explained why, you and Lindsey Graham and Senator Blumenthal may all agree this isn`t going to happen.

But in terms of taking the policy part seriously and putting aside Trump`s antics, if you did increase this type of immigration, it says the salaries of those immigrants would actually go up.  Potentially double.  And I wonder, does that appeal to Trump`s base?  Or does that not look like, oh, the Trump immigration plan would send a lot of money at skilled immigrants, which is not exactly what he ran on in the first place. Notwithstanding the other points you`ve raised.

DE FRANCESCO:  Right.  So this language about increasing the earnings of immigrants to me speaks very directly to that Country Club Republican, to the George W. Bush Republican or the home of George W. Bush.  So I think here, this is purely a political ploy.  He knows that his base is going to hate it.  He knows the Democrats are going to hate it --

MELBER:  So that`s important --

DE FRANCESCO:  -- but he`s trying to get that --

MELBER:  Just to slow down what you`re saying.  When you say his base, you`re saying the grassroots Trump base doesn`t even like that part of the plan but the sort of corporation side does.

DE FRANCESCO:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes, the old school Republicans, the more moderate ones, the ones who want to see that fiscal growth that know that comes with a healthy and robust immigration system.  I mean our underemployment is at record lows.  We need immigration.  And they know this is the way to go.

MELBER:  Well, there is an old saying.  Nothing says kicking it old school like a fiscal growth based immigration plan.


MELBER:  Indeed.  I`m going to fit in a break.  And I`m sure everyone is happy about that.  Victoria, Juanita, thanks to both of you.  Appreciate you being part of our coverage.

Coming up, we have a lot more to get to.  I have a special report on what I think is wrong with the Trump White House and Sarah Sanders` breaking records for dodging White House press briefings.

Later tonight on the show, I`m thrilled to tell you, Sherrilyn Ifill will be here with her views on important civil rights fight as well as the latest in the abortion battles out of Alabama.

Also tonight, Tony Schwartz is here reacting to new financial documents revealing Trump`s profit problem.  All that, Plus something you won`t see literally anywhere else.  Behind the scenes with Senator Cory Booker right here at 30 Rock.  He opens up about the poems he writes to his girlfriend and does a little freestyle.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We can try to freestyle it right now.

MELBER:  I don`t know how.

BOOKER:  It`s no feat to be on the beat so far away from the actual street.

MELBER:  And we`ll a beat under that.

BOOKER:  Yes.  If you want to be understood, you got to come to my book.


MELBER:  We have a whole lot more where that came from.  We`ll be right back.


MELBER:  Now, we turn to a story the Trump administration is trying to keep out of the news.  It is fairly unusual crackdown, unprecedented access.  Because whether or not anyone`s talking about it right now, today is a negative record for the Trump White House.  Sixty-six days since its last formal press briefing in March.

The footage you see right now of the White House press secretary is months old because neither Miss Sanders or any other government official has stepped to that lectern in 66 days.  A record, the longest for any administration in the past 26 years.

And you think about that whole fancy White House press room with the whole official White House lectern.  At this point, you`ve got to wonder if it`s going to start collecting dust if the staff never use it.

In fact, this new photo snapped by a reporter shows there is dust amassing on that lectern.  This is not normal.  As you certainly know if you watch the news across both parties, the White House holds, usually over 10 briefings a month and often on a daily basis to inform the public about major developments.

Those numbers have plummeted under Trump which is two briefings this year.  Now, whatever one thinks of press briefings, they can be tedious and frustrating and less than enlightening depending on who is at the lectern.

In the modern era, the act of holding them provides a forum for accountability, for fact-checking, for some exchange between the government and free press.  In the times since the last briefing, the White House has avoided facing televised questions about say the trade war or this battle plans in Iran or a single day of questions about that little thing called the Mueller report which included evidence on both current and former White House staff, thwarting the probe or lying for the president, including Sarah Sanders herself.


REPORTER:  What led you and the White House to believe that you had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI when the acting director says it`s exactly the opposite?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, I can speak to my own personal experience.  I`ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president`s decision.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST:  The Mueller report reveals then deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied to the press about Comey`s firing.  Sanders who was interviewed by the special counsel`s team admitted that her claim of hearing from countless members of the FBI was a "slip of the tongue."


MELBER:  The point here is not about whether Ms. Sanders would get some fastballs on that.  It is that the Trump White House continues to press, test, attack, and shatter all kinds of obligations of government to see what it can get away with.  Confiscating the press pass of a TV reporter in November, for example, of last year that went too far.  A judge overruled it.

But the White House is back at it this month taking press passes from "Washington Post" reporters like Dana Milbank and Jonathan Capehart.  Now, you may recall, conservatives attack President Obama for far smaller moves against press access.

And the new drought comes as Trump grinded through five communications director and has now concluded he doesn`t need one at all, Trump determining that he and his staffer will convey his message on Twitter and he`ll focus on interviews with friendly media outlets, 44 with "Fox News", under a dozen with all other networks combined.

And this isn`t just about Trump beefing with the press.  This about the role, the very existence of a free press dealing with the White House.  Now, when you think about that dusty lectern, it is just the latest sign of how the Trump administration will do anything it can to dodge accountability and then see whether anyone notices.

I am joined by Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Jonathan Capehart from "The Washington Post" who as mentioned has figured into this story.  Good evening to you.


MELBER:  What does it mean that they`ve cut off these briefings almost entirely in 2019?

CAPEHART:  It means that they don`t want to be held accountable.  Look, the president`s predecessors didn`t have a good relationship with the press.  They had a contentious relationship with the press.

But they respected the press and they respected the role of the press.  I can -- I always tell people this and we can`t mention it often enough, there`s only one profession that is protected in the Constitution of the United States and that is the press.

Freedom of the press is vital for a democracy.  It is vital because that is how the citizenry is informed about what the government is doing in its name.  And when the government decides that it doesn`t respect the press enough to hold press briefings, to hold it, to make itself accountable to the American people by not doing briefings at all.

Or to be fair, the president does make himself available to the press, but as you said in your set up there, he is only talking to friendly press where the questions will be softballs at best for him.  And not stand there in the east room as he`s only done a handful of times to answer questions from NBC, from "The Washington Post, " from "CNN" and "ABC", and all those folks who had been sitting in the White House briefing room asking questions that are important and vital for the American public.

MELBER:  Yes.  And when you put it that way, I mean a lot of this is important about whether you get it on the record.  So the first thing that happens, if the White House or anybody in government is caught lying, there`s anger at them for that.  But you have to have a forum to hold them accountable to even see whether that happens in the first place.


MELBER:  And so I think -- I wonder whether this sort of the relative unpopularity of the press briefing is part of, what, lets them get away with this.  I`m curious what you think about this Pentagon statistic that we can put on the map.  And here, we`re talking about holding them accountable and having questions about where we send out troops off to.  Over 300 days since the Pentagon press briefing in this administration, Jonathan.

CAPEHART:  Right.  And you know, this gets into a situation where, I`m sure you`ve seen this on your Twitter feed and I`ve had people mention this on my Twitter feed and come up to me in person and ask, why do folks even bother to show up at the White House?  Show up at the briefings?  Why do we even bother to cover the president?

And, on the one hand, I understand where they`re coming from.  They don`t want to give out information.  They don`t respect the press.  They don`t want to be transparent despite what the president says about his being the most transparent administration ever in the history of everything.

You know, the fact that they`re not -- the fact that they`re not doing that, to me, says, they don`t care.  They really do not care.  And the point I was trying to make in terms of the president`s predecessors, they had -- they not only had a -- have and had a reverence for the constitution.  They had a reverence for the role of the press.

And what we have now in the White House is a president who has no reverence for the Constitution.  Otherwise, he would be honoring the subpoenas.  He would be allowing Special Counsel Barr to testify.  He would be bending over backward to be accountable to the American people but he doesn`t revere the press.

And so when you have those two things, it is not surprising that we haven`t had a briefing in the press briefing room in 60 something days or at the Pentagon in more than 300 days.

MELBER:  Right.  And --

CAPEHART:  And we`re talking about the Pentagon because of Iran and Iraq.  But what about the other agencies, Ari, where there are other consequential things happening?

MELBER:  Right.  And they`re going to keep and they`re going to test and see what they can get away with which is part of why we wanted to make sure to shine a light on tonight.


MELBER:  Jonathan Capehart, thank you so much.

CAPEHART:  Thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  Still ahead, civil rights leader Sherrilyn Ifill is here.  But first, new revelations on Trump and how his presidency is damaging his profits when we`re back in 30.


MELBER:  Many Trump insiders insist Donald Trump ran for president to promote his brand, not to actually win.  Longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen made that point under oath before going to prison.


MICHAEL COHEN, LONGTIME TRUMP ATTORNEY:  Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great.  Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the greatest infomercial in political history.  The campaign for him was always a marketing opportunity.


MELBER:  The idea was free promotion from a losing campaign to help the business.  But what about a winning campaign?  Well, there`s new figures out today that show actually being president is costing Trump money.

Mar-a-Lago did raise its membership fees after he won but it still pulled in $15 million less last year than 2016.  The Doral Resort is down $41 million.  And a local consultant says that drop is from the negative connotations associated with the Trump brand.

Now, this extra scrutiny of the presidency has revealed extra details on how losing money has long been a core part of Trump`s business practices, the billion dollars he lost over about a decade heading into the `90s was more than double.  Those are the nearest taxpayers.

On the one hand, Trump is now paying a business price for his political career.  On the other, Trump has experience with this challenge that he faces right now, spinning giant business losses into claims that he`s good at business.  In fact, the Republican primary tested this very issue.  Because back in 2016, party leaders were standing up to Trump and noting his faults.


TRUMP:  Well, I don`t know anything about bankrupting four companies.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):  You bankrupt --

TRUMP:  You know why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One at a time.

RUBIO:  There are people who borrowed $36,000 --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hold on.  One at a time, Mr. Trump.

RUBIO:  -- to go to Trump University and they`re suing them now.  $36,000 to go to Trump University.  That`s a fake school.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX):  The litigation against Trump University, it`s a fraud case

RUBIO:  You lied about the --

TRUMP:  Yes, yes, yes.

RUBIO:  You lied to their students for Trump University.


MELBER:  Many of those loud voices have gone silent about what they then called Trump`s alleged fraud.  And despite the six bankruptcies, despite the new losses today at Trump properties, despite the "New York Times" reporting Trump lost more money than virtually any other taxpayer, Trump is still running for election on the myth that he`s a tough business tycoon with the kind of overcompensation that hints at insecurity.

Consider some spiritual wisdom from the Texas musician, La Cre, a self- described purpose-driven Christian rapper who post some questions to wanna- be gangsters that may apply here.  All this killing but where the bodies at?  All this money, where the Bugatti`s at?

You dig a little deeper and you`re going to see another insecure man sitting in a two-seater.

Our next guest worked with Trump on this myth, The Art of the Deal bestseller, 1987.  Tony Schwartz also then later announced Trump and has the energy products.  He`s also the author of The Way We Work Isn`t Working.  And he leads our recurring State of Mind series.

What is Trump doing here when he has such a bad business story to tell?

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, THE ART OF THE DEAL:  What he always does, 10,000 lies later, is deny, dissemble, accuse, do anything to deflect attention from what the reality is.  What he`s been remarkable at throughout his career is keeping an image, at the very least, about his effectiveness as a businessman, alive in the face of what we now know are massive losses.

And I say we because I include myself.  I was writing that book in 1986, 1987, when we now know he was losing hundreds of millions of dollars or at least, tens of millions of dollars on an annual basis.  And you could sit with Donald Trump and have no clue that that was going on.  The way he presented it to me and therefore in turn to the world was I`m doing better than ever.

Now the art of the deal was ostensibly about a series of successful deals.  If you go through that book today and you look at what actually happened, three of the chapters are about casinos that he owned or built.  All of them went bankrupt.  And we`re in the midst of going bankrupt as I was writing that, the two that were thought that would already belong to him.

The story of a 100 Central Park South where he got rid of tenants who he didn`t want because they were paying rents that were too low was a massive story of a failure.  The United States Football League which we wrote about was something that went bankrupt and yet what Trump would say was net-net, I am making you know tens of millions of dollars and I`m a billionaire.

He was already saying he was a billionaire.  I don`t believe at any point during his career Trump has been a billionaire.

MELBER:  You don`t?

SCHWARTZ:  Absolutely not.  And there`s -- actually, the media has continued to act as if that`s true.  Maybe the Times report changes that, but year in and year out you know Forbes finds him to be a billionaire.  I don`t think -- there are times when I think he hasn`t been worth virtually anything and this may be one of them.

HAYES:  When you look at the Republicans in 2016 as we showed, they were making some of this case.  There`s more details now, but he managed to vanquish that then.  Is there any learning curve here in your view?

SCHWARTZ:  Trump has managed, Ari, to debase our collective humanity.  That`s the most depressing thing about Trump.  It`s not Trump, but it`s the impact on the -- on the collective.  And you know, we are meant as human beings to evolve through our lives to see more, to develop, to be capable of more to have a wider deeper longer perspective, but you can also devolve.

And what makes us devolve is fear.  And Trump is a genius about fear.  He`s a genius about stoking fear in a way that gets people to support him because only he will save them.  And he`s a genius about stoking fear and anger and frustration in the people who oppose him and therefore drag him - - drag us down to his level.

So the level at which we operate it`s so much closer to survival today than to any kind of thriving, evolving perspective that I see that as the legacy that is most at this moment, because it could get worse, the legacy that is worst about him.

MELBER:  Right.  Which again goes to whether not only is there not a learning curve but whether he will get away with more because you won`t have some of those validators pushing against it.  Tony Schwartz, thank you as always.  I appreciate you being here.  Coming up, Sherrilyn Ifill joins us to discuss abortion rights under attack and another landmark Supreme Court case that many people are very focused on because it`s supposed to be the law of the land.

And later, our behind-the-scenes interview with Cory Booker.  He opens up about poetry and his girlfriend and drops a freestyle.



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  I don`t want to be a fear monger but I do believe that they`re trying to go on a path that will totally dismantle Roe v Wade and we have to be vigilant.


MELBER:  Speaker Pelosi issuing that warning as Alabama is adopting the strictest anti-abortion law in the country sparking protests and court battles which lot of supporters say they want, betting the Trump`s additions to judiciary could change all of this.  And then consider this action in the Senate today.  52 senators voting to confirm Trump pick Wendy Vitter as a federal judge.

Now, she has falsely claimed Planned Parenthood kills 150,000 women a year and that abortions caused cancer.  She also joins over two dozen Trump picks who refused to say whether the Brown versus Board decision banning segregation was correct.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you believe that Brown versus Board of Education was correctly decided?

WENDY VITTER, FEDERAL JUDGE:  I think I get into a difficult -- different - - difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.


MELBER:  Now, it can be difficult for judicial nominees to discuss certain new issues that they might have to later rule on or every specific case under the sun.  But civil rights leaders stress the unanimous Brown decision against apartheid is not a difficult case to say you support.  And tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of that ruling.

So we turn now to one of the nation`s leading civil rights advocates NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill.  Thanks for joining me tonight.


MELBER:  What do you see as important here as we mentioned given the anniversary tomorrow and the refusal to discuss this case and so many of those Trump nominees hearings?

IFILL:  Ari, it`s actually quite significant and I think it`s important too for us to kind of see the wake-up call.  There are nearly thirty judicial nominees who since when Wendy Vitter have refused to say that Brown versus Board of Education was correctly decided.

This is a sea change from what we have seen over the past decades, those on the right and those on the left.  Chief Justice Roberts at his confirmation hearing talked extensively about Brown and saw no problem about it.  He thought it was as likely to come back before the Supreme Court as Marbury vs. Madison, that seminal case that created judicial review.

Justice Alito said that Brown versus Board of Education actually vindicated the true meaning of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Even just as Kavanaugh last year described Brown versus Board of Education as the most important case in Supreme Court history.

And yet suddenly in a move that I have to believe is orchestrated, these Trump nominees have refused to discuss the brown case.  And we would be foolish to ignore this and to think that this is an accident or by chance, it is not.  And because Brown constitutes such an important and seminal moment, and expression about American democracy, we should all take note.

MELBER:  Well, and you say that you believe it might be orchestrated.  Rod Rosenstein is the most famous Deputy Attorney General I think in American history.  He`s got a replacement who`s less famous but as you know is now on the job.  And this is what he said when pressed about it by Senator Blumenthal.


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

JEFFREY ROSEN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  Senator, I don`t think that it would be a productive exercise for me to go through the most thousands of Supreme Court opinions and say which ones are right and which ones are wrong.  Whatever the law is, whether it`s the decision I would favor or disfavor, I see it as the role the Department of Justice to uphold the law such as it is unless Congress or the courts change it.


MELBER:  What do you say to their rebuttal as you just heard that they`re just not going to get into it?

IFILL:  Well, get into what?  Get into whether or not African Americans are entitled to be treated as full citizens, whether the Fourteenth Amendment truly guarantees equal protection to all people in the United States?  Brown is not one of thousands of cases.  It is a seminal a Supreme Court case as Marbury vs. Madison.  It is a case that speaks directly into modern American democracy.

And until last year, this was not controversial.  The idea that somehow you have to do mirror on Brown because you`re going to be on slippery slope is absolutely absurd.  If Chief Justice Roberts recognized brown as lying at the center of the canon of the rule of law, if our entire profession has been united over decades on the right and the left, about the importance of equal protection and the Brown decision, it`s astonishing that someone who`s going to be the Deputy Attorney General overseeing departments like the Civil Rights Division that has a portfolio of cases that directly depend on Brown to feel as though he can`t talk about the Brown case is truly astonishing, that he was confirmed today is quite alarming.

We should beware.  Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education.  I can tell you that the Legal Defense Fund and other civil rights groups who are out at our rally this morning on the Hill, we are not going to be deterred.  We see what is at stake, we see what the plan is, and we`re leaning in hard to protect equal rights for all in this country.

MELBER:  And as we talk about civil rights under the law, you think about all of the cases for leniency for commutation for a second chance given the racial disparities in the system.  And so while I have you, I`m curious your reaction to how the president is using his pardon or commutation power here.

For viewers who may have forgotten is Conrad Black, a very wealthy individual who went to prison, wrote this book Donald J. Trump:  A President Like No Other, and has now received this commutation you know, from the president.  Your reaction.

IFILL:  My reaction is that it`s appalling, but it could never be more appalling than the pardon that was given to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, someone who was convicted of engaging in racial discrimination, racial profiling against immigrants who was held in contempt by a federal court and who was pardoned by this president.

The President is using his pardon power strategically to speak to his base.  He pardons Scooter Libby.  That spoke to a particular segment of Conservative Republicans who wanted to see the vice president`s former counsel, Vice President Cheney`s former counsel vindicated.  He`s using it very strategically for his own power not to recognize a true injustice that has been done.

There are many thousands of people waiting for mercy and clemency from the President of the United States.  These do not strike me as the best candidates.  But more importantly, it shows you that when this president talks about law and order, he does not mean in order.  He means the law that he believes in.  He means the order that he wants.  He means law and order only as it applies to people that he demonizes and stigmatizes as being criminal.

And so this pardon is very much consistent with that, but frankly, the low- water mark was with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  I don`t know if it gets any lower than that.  And so this president`s use of this pardon doesn`t surprise me.

MELBER:  Sherrilyn Ifill, thank you so much for being here tonight.

IFILL:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Coming up, we see a lot of candidates who often are of course, on the record and careful.  Well, one is about to let their guard down.  Cory Booker when we come back.


MELBER:  New York Mayor Bill de Blasio jumped into the 2020 race today touting his experience actually running a city, something only a few of the Dem candidates can claim including Senator Cory Booker who rose as an untraditional Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.  Booker was just with me in our newsroom and we ended up covering some unusual ground while talking backstage, you see right here.

He brought up some of the poems he writes for his girlfriend, the importance of authenticity, and we discussed why so many musicians have links to New Jersey.  Booker also became the first candidate of this cycle to volunteer a freestyle rap for us.  Here is our new conversation airing right now for the very first time.


MELBER:  You know you represent New Jersey in the sense of you literally do as a senator.


MELBER:  But there`s also the concept of representing.

BOOKER:  Rapping?

MELBER:  So we`ve got some New Jersey lines.  I want to run them by you and you give us your thoughts on it.

BOOKER:  All right.  Go ahead.

MELBER:  Lauryn Hill, talented MC, she says, rock hard like granite or steel, people feel Lauryn Hill from Newark to Israel.

BOOKER:  See, and that`s the proud thing.  If you listen to her like epic album, the person you hear, the teacher -- you know, how they had classroom scenes.

MELBER:  Oh yes, yes, Miseducation, yes.

BOOKER:  That is actually the -- that is actually the Mayor of Newark right now, named Ras Baraka.  That`s whose voice it was.

MELBER:  Get out -- are you for real.  I had no idea.

BOOKER:  100 percent, yes.  It`s pretty cool.

MELBER:  So what was he doing there?

BOOKER:  He was their school teacher.

MELBER:  So that`s like a legit classroom recording.

BOOKER:  Legit classroom recording.  It was powerfully --

MELBER:  Thank you, Jeff.

BOOKER:  Portending of the future.

MELBER:  That`s wild.  All right.  So that`s -- so she does represent Newark?

BOOKER:  She reps Newark hard.

MELBER:  Now, this one is basic but from a great lyricist so we included --

BOOKER:  I`m going to guess.  I won`t even look at the paper.


BOOKER:  I`m going to guess that it`s Redman.

MELBER:  No.  Although we -- see don`t -- all right, we don`t have Redman on here.  What will Redman say about?

BOOKER:  Listen, first of all, Redman straight up from the bricks.  That is the nickname for brick cities so I don`t want a quote a Redman lyric because some of them might -- some might --

MELBER:  There`s a lot of Redman lyrics that candidates can`t really usually be quoted.

BOOKER:  Unfortunately the ones that are popping in my mind right now.

MELBER:  Well, this is -- this was puck and he once said through your town and downtown Newark (INAUDIBLE).  Showing some love for the East Coast.

BOOKER:  I literally did not know that.

MELBER:  French Montana.

BOOKER:  OK, you`re giving me one.

MELBER:  Came up on the sewer, you got the workout in Newark, riding with Colin, watching for the grease.

BOOKER:  That`s actually the second one over my head.  I did not know that.

MELBER:  And this is the thing.  I talk about this sometimes.  When you get to be a really famous rapper, you don`t even need to rhyme anymore.  It was just -- it was just line -- OK, that`s cool.

BOOKER:  So I`m going to say something I like to regret.  But I may or might not occasionally write things to my girlfriend and I think sometimes I did creative license for my -- for my hip-hop love that you can --

MELBER:  You write a poem without rhyming?

BOOKER:  I will write a poem that sword or rhymes in a way that hip-hop folks can get away with.

MELBER:  Right.  Well, and Eminem used to say you just -- you bend the word.

BOOKER:  You bend the words.

MELBER:  If you`re good at it, bend it into anything.


MELBER:  Interesting.  Well, we`re going to have to get some of those lines for you someday if you want to share them.  Now this one is -- see people sometimes come at me for the -- for the dad jokes and bad puns on the show and I`m like that`s just part of who I am, terrible jokes.  I`ve been -- I`ve been that way.  I haven`t changed.

BOOKER:  I respect that because I`m the same way.

MELBER:  So here`s --

BOOKER:  What you call 100 rabbits in a row going backwards?

MELBER:  100 rabbits, what?

BOOKER:  A receding hairline.

MELBER:  I need a joke.

BOOKER:  You know, we are -- there are times we actually did a really great story about our generation, about X generation which is kind of a small population bubble compared to the ones that came before us, baby boomers and the ones that coming after Millennials.  But we really did have -- we were the hip hop generations.

I was -- I was checking some Millennials that tried to talk about them being more down with sort of a rap music hip hop is that we were the literally the originators of a whole sort of -- which I think is really powerful because it`s sampling the old but it`s also innovating on one on the middle.

MELBER:  And again, it`s not to glorify any particular era because different areas have different things, but if you go back old enough, you had to work harder to find your music to dig in the proverbial crates, right.  And now, everything is you know --

BOOKER:  It`s -- yes, I think it was something powerful you know, when you hear two turntables in the microphone.  You kind of know that it`s of a different era right or to what where the digital music is today.

MELBER:  So this brings us back to the bad pun, chameleon air, and this is a freestyle in fairness.


MELBER:  Call me New Jersey because I`m always in New Jersey.

BOOKER:  That is pretty cool.

MELBER:  It`s a New Jersey pun.

BOOKER:  We could try to freestyle right now.

MELBER:  I don`t know --

BOOKER:  It`s no-feet to be on the beat so far away from the actual street.

MELBER:  Yes, and we`ll add a beat under that.

BOOKER:  Yes.  If you want to be understood, you have to come to my hood.

MELBER:  When are you going to --

BOOKER:  -- till you find out what is really good.

MELBER:  Are you going to do this in the debates?

BOOKER:  I will not do this in the debates.

MELBER:  I bet you could go on freestyle with Bernie.

BOOKER:  You literally --

MELBER:  I don`t know.

BOOKER:  I`m going to make no comment on that because that part will be replayed.  I think that people connect to authenticity even if it`s a different rhythm.  I walked into graduation this past weekend in New Hampshire and they were playing Irish bagpipes and it moved me.  That`s not -- I`m not sort of like native to that incredible music, but the power of great music, and you know this from hip hop is authenticity connects.

MELBER:  Right.

BOOKER:  Even if it`s -- even if it`s a different culture, even across religious lines, people who are real need to be celebrated.  So what I wanted -- you went -- we went to the senior citizen buildings in Newark, they would laugh when I come in and say, jokes, jokes.  I used to always come in and tell a corny dad joke.

MELBER:  But now, you have that covered.

BOOKER:  I had -- I had it covered.  But I really think that this is one of those presidential elections where people are (INAUDIBLE) enough not want people who are trying to be something they`re not and just want you to be your 100 percent yourself.  And I feel liberty in doing that.

And by the way, I like a lot of the people in the race.  I think I`m the best person.  But if I end up not being the person, at least I know I`m going to sleep well tonight because I gave my -- all my heart, all my spirit to the race, and it was 100 percent myself.


MELBER:  There you have it.  Now, to be clear, we didn`t ask Senator Booker to freestyle.  It`s not one of our requests for candidates this cycle.  Don`t worry, if you`re watching at the end coming on the show, but we did definitely enjoy it.


MELBER:  More breaking news.  We led the hour with developments in the Michael Flynn case and now there is more.   A federal judge has now in that case ordered prosecutors, that`s the Mueller side of this, to file transcripts of Michael Flynn`s conversation with Russian officials and they asked them to submit the actual audio recordings of those Flynn conversations.

Now, prosecutors have until Friday, May 31st to submit.  Flynn famously talked to Russian Ambassador Kislyak during the transition and his guilty plea was about lying to the feds about that very conversation.

Also before I go, a programming note about tomorrow.  We have a very special "FALLBACK FRIDAY" with my "TODAY SHOW" colleague, Al Roker, and Grammy-Nominated Musician and Activist Moby.  They`ll be together on THE BEAT tomorrow with a whole lot more.  That does it for us tonight.