Pelosi taunts Trump. TRANSCRIPT: 5/23/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Melissa Murray, John Flannery, Sam Nunberg, Brad Hoylman, CharlieSavage, Dan Abrams

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you all.  That`s all I got tonight.  We`ll be back tomorrow with more MEET THE PRESS DAILY.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.  Ari, it is all yours.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Chuck Todd.  We are covering a ton of developing stories tonight.  New fireworks between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi.  She now says, "The stable genius needs an intervention."

I also have my special report on the contempt vote for Bill Barr.  Do you remember hearing about that?  Well, it turns out the entire U.S. House hasn`t actually formally held him in contempt.  I`m going to break down why that matters and where we`re headed.

Later, I will also speak to the sponsor of this New York State law.  It is now a law that will force Donald Trump to give up part of his tax returns through the New York State to the U.S. Congress.  So a lot is happening.

But we begin with Speaker Pelosi firing back at the president after his tanty at their meeting yesterday.  The speaker using Trump`s tanty to try to unify her caucus, arguing they should not impeach Donald Trump and she claims now that`s what he wants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I think what really got to him was these court cases and the fact that the House Democratic caucus is not going to pass to impeachment.  And that`s where he wants us to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  This is Speaker Pelosi`s attempt to manage where obviously the politics of impeachment and her own caucus because she references things that are impeachable but also saying she`s not ready to go there yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  Ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice.  Yes, this could be impeachable offenses.  I do think that impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country.  And what we can get the facts to the American people through our investigation, it may take us to a place that is unavoidable in terms of impeachment or not but we are not at that place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Speaker saying not that place.  Now, look at this reporting from "The Washington Post" which says that Pelosi and the committee chairs are basically diffusing this tide of impeachment sentiment in their caucus.  And when they met, they were worried about what was going to happen, the head of the White House and this update of members on the investigations and the court victories may be turning the tide back.

But here is the bottom line.  Even if Speaker Pelosi uses her brash, strong bare knuckles, rhetorical text on the president to diffuse some of this is it is clearly not all gone yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA):  I didn`t come to Congress to impeach a president but I believe we have no other choice.  Our hand is being forced.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I do believe that --

REPORTER:  Are you any more hopeful that impeachment proceedings are going to move forward in the near future?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe that they will but it depends on what you mean by the near future but I think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Meanwhile, Pelosi keeping up the drumbeat of attacks and calling Donald Trump`s behavior below the dignity of the office he holds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  Again, I pray for the president of the United States.  I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC NEWS:  Your prayer comments almost suggest you`re concerned about his well-being.

PELOSI:  I am.  And the well-being of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Among the many observations about what is clearly a very rancorous relationship between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi has been that he seems so thrown off by her.  He never even given her a nickname.

Well -- and this may be a sad part of covering debates between the coequal branches between the president and the speaker.  But I can report for you tonight that appears to be changing as Donald Trump clearly upset, clearly rankled by the speaker today responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  She says that you want to be impeached.  Do you want to be impeached?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don`t know anybody that wants to be impeached.  I am an extremely stable genius.  You all saw me minutes later, I was at a news conference, I was extremely calm.

I was probably even more so in that room.  You had the group, crying Chuck, crazy Nancy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  I am joined tonight by NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray, John Flannery, special counsel for three different congressional investigations and a former prosecutor, and a former Trump confidant who even worked on the infamous tweets, Sam Nunberg.

What do you think of the way this is going between Nancy and Donald?

MELISSA MURRAY, LAW PROFESSOR, NYU:  I think Nancy Pelosi`s had a really good week.  Those two court cases that came out in her favor, the fact that the Justice Department is now willing to broker with the administration on the exchange of documents all sort of shows that her plan at least to buy some time has been the right one.  So she`s trying to diffuse the most rancorous elements of her caucus while also proceeding in a way that will keep the United States on side.

MELBER:  I think that she, as clearly as you say, scored some procedural victories there.  And yet, John, just as people try to hold the White House accountable and say don`t only look at the words and the drama, the underlying debate that she still has to manage are the people in her caucus and in the country who says there should be more sanction for what Mueller found on the instance of obstruction than talking.

Jon Meacham, a colleague of ours, a very careful historian.  He`s out here with AOC and Al Green.  I mean this is a whole wide diverse movement of experts.  Take a listen to him for your analysis here on MSNBC.

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN:  It strikes me and it`s easy for me to say, I don`t have to face the voters.  But it strikes me that if I were a member of the House of Representatives right now, I would be inclined to proceed at least to have hearings on impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLANNERY:  I agree.  Absolutely.  And it is interesting that a historian is saying that.  Because anybody who`s read what Madison said what the debate was in the constitutional convention would say that their biggest concern about the executive, if there was a single executive, that there would be checks and balances.

And if you have checks and balances and don`t use them, then you have the monarch.  And a lot of people quote Hamilton.  But Hamilton believed in the monarch.  He wanted King George III without some of the corruption.  And the other people though who spoke to the Constitution were very concerned about this.

Nancy Pelosi has failed her primary mission.  She has three horsemen who know how to do this, three committees, Jerry Nadler, Schiff, and Cummings.  All of these people are being held back from doing what they have to do and the time compasses by.  Right now --

MELBER:  Well, to your point, I mean she got reelected.  So the caucus is behind her.  You mentioned the chairs, Nadler, Cummings, and Waters have all basically shown the country, professor, that they do think it would be prudent to at least do impeachment hearings.

FLANNERY:  Exactly.

MURRAY:  Well, Nancy Pelosi is in a tough spot.  I mean you may say that she`s completely failed this week but she`s actually scored a lot of points.  She`s got to keep this ruckus caucus in check and she also has to show her work.

We`ve been passing laws left and right.  We are not even talking about them.  We passed the Equality Act through the House last week.

We passed a bill today about retirement savings.  We are not even talking about them because we are concerned about the stable genius.  She`s trying to get people focused on what they are doing, show their worth for 2020.

FLANNERY:  But which of these bills are going to come across the president`s desk to be signed?

MURRAY:  It does not matter.

FLANNERY:  It does matter.

MURAY:  In 2020 --

FLANNERY:  It does matter.  That`s the problem with the president right there.

MURRAY:  In 2020, these people are going to have to go up for reelection and show their worth and show that they`ve been working.

FLANNERY:  Yes, and if they --

MURRAY:  And no one is listening right now.

FLANNERY:  Their base -- 70 percent plus of their base earlier this month wanted impeachment and they want it because no less than the speaker of the House said publicly yesterday he`s committing a cover-up.  What do you need?  We all know what he`s doing wrong and the theory and this language.

If this is her language, it does not make sense.  I, a thief, goad you into arresting me for thieving.  I punch you in the mouth goading you to punch me and you don`t punch me because I don`t want to do it.  You want to make me do which is fight.

And we have to fight this.  This is a constitutional crisis.  There are things in life, in public life that you can walk away from.  This is not one of them.

MURRAY:  No one is disputing that it is a constitutional crisis.  I have said that on this show before.  But she is a pragmatist right.

So what`s in the mind of Nancy Pelosi?  She`s a pragmatist trying to keep this caucus in the majority in 2020 and hopefully go forward and win the presidency.  And that means convincing people in these purple districts that they are working for them.

MELBER:  And I suppose the factual predicate underneath this very interesting colloquium from two talented attorneys holding different views that I think reflect many of the views across the country.  And the spectrum right now is Speaker Pelosi is under the view that it would definitely be against the Democrats` interest to pursue impeachment.

And I don`t know that that, has it really been sold.  In other words, A, is that the right decision?  I`ve argued that`s not how to make a decision.  And B, is it the right political prediction about Trump when the elites of Washington haven`t been so great at predicting Trump?

Now, I want to play for your analysis -- and by the way, Sam, I have some bad news.

SAM NUNBERG:  Yes, sir.

MELBER:  We`re not going to (INAUDIBLE).  We`ll just never going to get to you.

NUNBERG:  I get it.

MELBER:  I am kidding.  We`re going to get to you.  But, on this intramural debate, before we go to a Trump aide, take a look --

MURRAY:  Never go to Trump aide.

FLANNERY:  Get ready.

MELBER:  Take a look at the back and forth here on Pelosi and Trump.  And again, the war of words because she`s clearly trying to use the words to get out from what you are calling for which is House floor approach to this.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  She pulled a stunt.  Now, I truly believe that the president has a bag of tricks and the White House has a bag of tricks that they save for certain occasions.  I only think that he was not up to the test of figuring out the difficult choices.

I said one time, who`s in charge here?  Because you agree and then all of a sudden, something changes.  What goes on there?  Who`s in charge?

MELBER:  Does she not have a risk if she refers to his tricks but they`re politicians.  In my experience, they all have methods.  You can call them trick, methods, habits. Her method here is to keep trying to have a political battle that looks as strong as and a substitute for accountability on the Mueller report.

MURRAY:  So I think you are selling her short.  I think it is a question of timing.  She`s not saying never impeachment.  She`s just saying right now, no, like laying a case, going to court.  They keep wanting this --

FLANNERY:  You know, listen to her English.  Listen to what she`s actually saying.  She`s saying you`re not going to trick me into impeachment.  I`m going to go --

MURRAY:  Because he is --

FLANNERY:  No matter what you do, no matter how you shut down the government, no matter how much you serve to Congress, you are not going to goad me into impeaching you, which is the only tool we have.

MURRAY:  The Republicans used impeachment in 19 -- with Bill Clinton.

FLANNERY:  `99.

MURAY:  1999.

FLANNERY:  And a Republican was elected in 2000 to the presidency, to the White House, and we can do the same thing.

MURRAY:  But they used --

NUNBERG:  And we lost -- Republicans lost exceeds --

MELBER:  There it is.  Sam, I told you are not in this segment.

FLANNERY:  I want my aide here.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER:  Hold on.  We`re going to put a ping here.  So closing in a sentence, your best argument.  One.

FLANNERY:  My best argument is that you can`t pretend to fight.  You have to fight.  Like children, you can`t just talk to children and say you`re going to do something.  You have to do it or not.

MURRAY:  She is fighting.  She is fighting, using procedural method.  She hasn`t ruled out impeachment entirely.

Jamie Raskin`s point about using impeachment as a process or an investigative tool is a good one.  I don`t think she`s ruled that out.  I think you`re selling her short.  I think a lot of people are selling her short.

MELBER:  And now turning to a different topic.  I did want to say thanks for being here.

NUNBERG:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  See you next time.  I am kidding.  Turning to a different topic.  I think you gave us all a lot of food for thought, both of you.  And I love the colloquium.  I love the respectful disagreement.

MURRAY:  See you outside.

FLANNERY:  She`s so forgiving.

MELBER:  Then you get to the other piece of here, which is why you`re here.   What did we see from Donald Trump yesterday?  Do you -- as someone who understands and who worked closely with him and who was in the limo with him, do you see that as Donald Trump doing his best political theater or do you see it as him becoming unhinged?

NUNBERG:  I see it as a little bit of both.  He`s personalizing this.  He`s going to be constitutionally incapable of doing what Bill Clinton did so smartly in 1998, which is saying I want to work on behalf of the American people.  They want to attack me.  They want to go after me.

He personalizes it in terms of saying you can`t even have an investigation into me.  So he has no way of really trying to get anything done on behalf of the people.  And then he says, I am not even going to try to do anything from a bipartisan point of view if you are investigating me.

And one of the most accurate public polling I saw, yesterday was like 40 to 50 percent of the country on impeachment hearings, 40 percent supported.  But around 65 percent wants the investigations and wants the hearings.

MELBER:  But when you look at the president acting that way, they hold this meeting, he claims he wants to be for infrastructure --

NUNBERG:  Self-destruction, the lying part.

MELBER:  Yes.  Why?

NUNBERG:  Because when he has to start saying I am a stable genius, when he has to start saying having people say you are in the room, I didn`t lose my temper.  That`s where that really hits him personally.  And one of the things --

MELBER:  So do you think he was lying about saying he did not lose his temper?

NUNBERG:  I wasn`t there.  I think that he probably walked in.  I think that he made a point to not lose his temper in front of Pelosi and Schumer but was probably very difficult to work with earlier in the day before he was in that room for three minutes.

And what I also think I don`t understand is I sat in the speech that he gave once in 2013 at a dinner, roughly dinner, very quickly.  And he criticized the Republican Party when he was trying to be an outsider.

He criticized them saying why are they taking impeachment off the table so quickly on Barack Obama?  Do you think Bill Clinton liked being impeached?  Do you think any president likes going in the history books saying they --

MELBER:  Doesn`t that go to --

NUNBERG:  He would hate me --

MELBER:  One of the holes with the Pelosi argument -- I do think she`s trying different things.  But the notion that Donald Trump is trying to trick them into impeaching you are saying doesn`t strike you as the way he looks at this?  Because he understands fighting and that is a -- nothing else, that is a constitutional way.

NUNBERG:  I was shocked he caved in the beginning on the shutdown.  But then real reason that he ended up caving, I`ve heard from a colleague, people in the White House was he wanted to give his State of the Union in the chambers of Congress.  He didn`t want to get it outside and he didn`t like the fact that Pelosi was not going to let him.

He will hate being impeached.  It will be something that he knows this is a brander, a marketer.  And he`s also -- once again, perhaps he can adapt but he`s not going to be able to handle this politically the way Bill Clinton.

MELBER:  And you are saying impeachment is negative from a branding.

NUNBERG:  I am saying for his re-election where it`s 38 percent want him re-elected, 52 percent say they don`t, it is not going to help the direction of the country and it`s not going to help overall of him being an effective president.  Here`s a guy who has over 50 percent on the economy, on foreign policy, and his ratings are in the mid-40s.

FLANNERY:  Well, I just say ditto.  Consider the fact that he goes crazy when she says you are covering up.

NUNBERG:  He called it the I word yesterday.

FLANNERY:  Yes, the I word.

NUNBERG:  He said he was the I word.

FLANNERY:  He`s the guy that said --

MELBER:  Yes.  How often is this guy (CROSSTALK) speech?  Final thought because we`re out of time.

MURRAY:  It`s not about tricking.  It`s about goading.  If he`s impeached, that`s fodder for his base.  They are -- that`s exactly what he wants and then he can say forever and ever that he was the most prosecuted president in American history.  And that`s what he wants --

FLANNERY:  For crimes he committed.

MURRAY:  Well, be that as it may.  This will turn people -- this will turn his base out to the polls in droves and get all of those people who were on --

FLANNERY:  And Rs.

NUNBERG:  But we need more --

MURRAY:  Possibly.

(CROSSTALK)

NUNBERG:  We need more votes in 2020.  Remember, t is 46-48 between Clinton and Trump.  There`s five and a half percent that went to third and fourth party candidates.  Trump is not showing he can get over -- to near 40 --

FLANNERY:  Even with the Russians, he`s not going to get the electoral.

MURRAY:  The best thing that happened this week for turning out the Democrats and turning out black women who mean the most in this democratic elections is not putting Harriet Tubman on the bill.  That will get black women out there ongoing.

MELBER:  Well, this conversation was fascinating and you see the heat in it.  And this heat is exactly why Donald Trump I think is trying to find any way to turn the page on this.  And why -- as you did articulate so interestingly, why Speaker Pelosi is managing a lot in her caucus because there are different risks either which way you go.

I am going to fit in a break.  I know Flannery is going to be back tomorrow with the rapper Tee Grizzley.  So we`ll see you soon --

FLANNERY:  It is my natural way.  I will have bling and everything.  It gets amazing.

MELBER:  Sam, John, Melissa, thank you for a spirited discussion.

MURRAY:  Thank you.

MELBER:  We have so much more.  My special report tonight on Attorney General Barr and the contempt vote.  Why is it taking so long and is there a good court reason?

Later, this breaking news on Donald Trump`s Justice Department cracking down on the freedom of the press.  And a new indictment in a case that was spun out of the Mueller probe, a banker charge with millions of dollars in loans that he was going to illicitly use to try to bribe his way into a Trump job.

And that`s not all.  A new bill to help Congress get Trump`s taxes will become law, the New York State senator who made it happen is here.  So we have a lot more.

I`m Ari Melber.  You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Do you remember all the talk about Donald Trump`s Attorney General Bill Barr being voted in contempt.  Well, I want to tell you, as of tonight he actually has not been formally held in contempt because everything you heard about which we covered and was everywhere for a little while, it was a committee vote.

But the speaker has yet to hold a full House floor vote that would actually trigger his contempt.  Now, she`s hinting it may be coming soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  The fact that the attorney general of the United States would lie to Congress under oath, again, we`re on the pass of contempt for him.  That`s what I would hope?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Hope.  But she is in charge and she has been waiting.  So given all the stonewalling by the Trump administration which Pelosi has been a prime critic of, it does raise questions.  Now, tonight, there are sources that say this floor vote could come as soon as the first week of June and that would officially make Barr the second attorney general ever to be held in contempt ever to be held in contempt ever in history.

But we want to apply some of that history here because just think about the debates we have been having.  We just had one earlier on the show, about how aggressive Democrats should be.  Well, it is worth noting that just these two weeks already have marked a longer weight by Democrats than when Republicans handle their contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Just tonight, a House Committee voted to hold President Obama`s Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Speaker Boehner says the full House of Representative will vote next week to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  That entire saga from the committee vote to the House floor was quick.  Republicans used about eight days to do it.  And so tonight, here we are, amidst all these other stuff, it`s been already over two weeks.  Fifteen days in counting since the Judiciary Committee said they thought Barr should be held in contempt.

Speaker Pelosi is taking a slower approach and there are people who are frustrated with that.  Now, she says she`s staying true to the timeline that she has always thought is best because back during the Holder contempt vote in 2012, this was what she was saying about the Republican approach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  On the floor of the House, around the week from the time it came out of committee, we have a contempt of Congress, a resolution against the attorney general.  Here they are within one week bringing something to the floor without really trying to resolve the issue.  They did not even take two weeks to say we`re just bringing this to the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Didn`t even take two weeks.  You know, sometimes in the news, they pull the old sound bite and you`re almost sure it`s going to be to show contradiction over time.

Now, to be fair, and we have been looking into this.  Pelosi argues that -- and what you just saw shows consistency over time.  And we checked with her office for a timeline, like OK, is its two or three weeks or is this going to be just delayed forever?  They point to her colleague, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer`s statement who says, "I don`t want to anticipate it will be done this month.  We only have one week left."

Pelosi`s team is basically pointing us to that to emphasize that Hoyer who is in charge of the House schedule in concert with her is saying after recess.  So that could be the week of June 4th but nothing has been formally scheduled.  They wouldn`t give us an exact date.

So who cares exactly when it happens?  Well, a couple of things here.  Number one, we can`t assume it will happen.

And so one question is whether Mr. Barr is going to get away with this entirely or whether Democrats are going to come back around and do something.  And two, there is some interesting clues as to why you`d use a slower or even wider strategy than the Republicans did.  It`s not necessarily less aggressive.

Pelosi`s team is arguing that actually, the delay may be to supersize the contempt vote, to bring in multiple resolutions on several Trump officials who they say deserve contempt, which is a huge blood on your record and normally brings potential jail time.

Let me read to you some of what we have learned.  They say in the interest of efficiency and the limited floor time, they want to wait and then potentially package more than one vote together.

So then we called on someone else.  Former House Counsel Irvin Nathan.  He was the lawyer while Pelosi was speaker and while the other big clash, not Holder, but the other big clash in the Bush era when he had the president, former officials held in contempt.

Now, Nathan tells us that the whole tactic could pay off because if you bring multiple contempt resolutions against Trump officials together, it may illustrate the courts a comprehensive effort that the administration is actively obstructing the House.  In this case, the argument that the Trump campaign stonewalling is not some sort of one-off situation that might be fixed with a kind of gentle rush back.  It would be demanding the courts come in and really enforce contempt.

So who are these other will be?  Well, some of them you`ve certainly heard about.  Chairman Nadler who said the Judiciary Committee would hold former White House Counsel Don McGahn in contempt if he does not make good on that subpoena.  Well, that clash has filled the week of news.

And then "Politico" separately reporting that Chairwoman Maxine Waters is going to ask the House counsel whether Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin should be held in contempt over the whole tax returns fight.  Because, again, there is a lawful authority there that at least the Congress says is being defied.

So what is the big deal about contempt? Well, normally, if you are in contempt, you go to jail.  That`s why it comes up in so many movies because it is a dramatic, immediate sentencing.  Think about Jim Carry in "Liar, Liar."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One more word on you and I will hold you in contempt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I hold myself in contempt.  Why should you be any different?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Take him away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This man is a good father.  You are not -- don`t do this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  But that is a movie.  Cabinet officials and certainly the attorney general are quite different.  There is not a court that`s under normal president going to send them to jail.

But defying the subpoenas is serious.  A contempt vote shows that Democrats are holding it lightly and it gives them a mechanism to go to the courts.

And that`s not all.  The other important part here and why I am going into details, take a look at how the Supreme Court has dealt with things like this.  When they look at a defiance of a congressional subpoena, they say that that kind of case must be given the most expeditious treatment by the courts.

In other words, if Pelosi in the House can prove there being reasonable and thoughtful, and then has several subpoenas that are defied and bring these contempt votes, they may get the courts to enforce them and even without jail time, they may then force the people who work in these agencies to fork the stuff over regardless of what Donald Trump says, which is one of the reasons that the Pelosi lawyer I mentioned earlier says the Democrats will still need to move with some haste, with some urgency.

A couple of weeks, fine but he says they can`t just wait months.  Otherwise, if, say, they kick this out to September, the courts will ultimately ask why did you move things ahead to get here quickly?  Why didn`t you make this happen?

And so what you see here is the interplays actually because of the way Donald Trump governs, it is the way a lot of these fights go down.  It is not just between the White House and Congress.  It is Congress going to the third branch and figuring out what`s the best legal strategy to act fast, to set votes in motion, to basically get something done soon.  Otherwise, the courts, while they may not look as kindly on these efforts to take all of these people, McGahn, Barr, Mnuchin, and deal with them in a legal way.

Now, remember what AG Barr said thus far.  He doesn`t feel very much like he`s in contempt.  He went up to Pelosi last week and asked whether she brought her handcuffs when they went to an event together.  Last night, Barr was also spotted at the Trump Hotel D.C. the same time the president was there.

So he`s literally using his commerce or his dining budget to support the Trump business empire which is a bit of contrast to his predecessor, A.G. Sessions, and Deputy Rosenstein.  Remember their famous meal?  I can tell you it was not at the Trump Hotel.  It was a restaurant across the street from the Trump International Hotel but one that was independent.

So you take this all together as Barr closes up in Donald Trump`s corner in multiple ways and as the Congress tries to figure out how to prove to courts that they mean business.  In closing, I will just tell you, they can take some time but they don`t have endless time and we`re going to be keeping an eye on when and if these contempt votes happen.

Now, coming up, we turn to the Trump DOJ`s crackdown on press freedom, an important story tonight.  But first, exclusively here, the New York lawmaker behind the Trump tax bill when we`re back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  House Democrats have been saying, you got it, show me the money, as they hunt for Donald Trump`s elusive tax returns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Show me the money.  Money!  Jerry, put them (INAUDIBLE) say that.  Say it to me one more time, Jerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Show me money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can`t even feel you, Jerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Show me the money!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jerry, you got to yell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Show me the money!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  That may be how House Democrats feel at least because they think they`re going to start getting the records of the money.  NBC News reports that Chairwoman Waters, House Financial Committee already has some of Trump`s secret bank records.  Wells Fargo handing over a few thousand documents, TD Bank giving reportedly a handful.

Now, Donald Trump is losing there and he`s also losing the court fights that we`ve been covering about.  This as a federal judge ruling against his plan to try to block Deutsche Bank from complying with a lawful congressional subpoena, same story down in D.C. where again the subpoena against Donald Trump`s accounting firm is still good law which means they got a fork it over.

And then you get to the state level.  New York, Trump`s hometown, Trump Organization is here of course, and state lawmakers have now put the Democrats in Congress closer to part of Trump`s tax returns which is kind of interesting.  They passed this new bill and it authorizes New York state officials to Trump -- to share Trump`s state returns with three congressional committees.

The Democratic Governor of New York, Cuomo, is expected to sign it and it would take effect immediately.  New York State Senator Brad Hoylman co- sponsored the bill and joins me exclusively.  Thanks for being here.

SEN BRAD HOYLMAN (D-NY):  Thanks for having me.

MELBER:  Why is this good for New York?

HOYLMAN:  It`s good for New York because we as the home state of Donald Trump and many of his companies as you know have a responsibility to step into this breach that exists between Congress and the Treasury Department, this constitutional standoff.  Well, lo and behold, New York can step up to the plate and do something perhaps that Congress can`t at the moment which is get a copy of Donald Trump`s state tax returns.

MELBER:  In that sense, are you late?  Would this have been a better policy before the election?

HOYLMAN:  Yes, probably.  In fact, the first bill that I wrote would have required all presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their taxes before they appeared on the New York State ballot.  This was the bill we moved.  I think it has the privacy protections that my colleagues wanted while fulfilling the role of the state which is to make certain that we continue to cooperate with Congress where needed.

MELBER:  I think it`s interesting.  You`re right about sort of stepping into this whole thicket and I see that why you and your allies think it`s constructive.  As a journalist, I think getting the information to the Congress or elsewhere may also be constructive.  But I got to ask you.  Have you ever passed a bill like this that resulted in a Republican`s tax returns being handed over?

HOYLMAN:  Well, I`ll tell you this.  This is good policy, end of story.  Because not only does it apply --

MELBER:  Now, I tell you this.  That`s not really answering the question.

HOYLMAN:  Well, it applies to all public officials Republican, Democrat, and otherwise.

MELBER:  Sure, but let`s be real.  The result is this Republican president.  Have you ever done something like this that would apply to a Democrat?

HOYLMAN:  Well, this bill does apply to a Democrat as well as a Republican, no matter who`s in office public official at state or federal level, anyone who`s a New Yorker.

MELBER:  You`re so smart, I feel like you do understand me.  And I don`t say it to be difficult, I`m just saying, what do you say to the obvious argument against this that it does look like New York, a blue state legislature is doing something to get at a political opponent.

HOYLMAN:  Well, what I say to that is that we have to be nimble-footed as legislators and respond to contemporary times.  We are on the precipice of a constitutional showdown.  And if New York can step in, if my fellow legislators can step in along with Governor Cuomo and do something to avert that crisis, then I think we should and I`m glad we have.

MELBER:  So your view is you`re dealing with the defiance of Donald Trump as the incumbent and not only trying to target your political opponents?

HOYLMAN:  Well, I`ll tell you that Donald Trump as you know, you know, broke 40 years of political tradition by not releasing his tax returns.  There are a lot of information that I think New Yorkers and Americans want to know about potential conflicts of interests and otherwise.  And if New York can be part of the solution to this intractable problem, then I`m glad we are going to do that.

MELBER:  Fascinating.  And so final thing, when would the state tax returns actually hit Congress?

HOYLMAN:  Well, there`s a couple of steps.  First of all, the governor has to sign the bill.

MELBER:  Sure. 

HOYLMAN:  Secondly, Chairman Neal would have to request the information.

MELBER:  But it -- weeks or years, assuming that they say OK, we want it?

HOYLMAN:  It could be weeks, it could be sooner.  But I think it`s up to Chairman Neal and the members.

MELBER:  Because we know -- we know that Chairman Neal and the others have requested these in other ways so there`s no reason why they would be uninterested in what you`re doing which I thought reading you and I appreciate how careful you are but it sounds like by the -- by the end of the summer or sooner, they`ll have the New York State returns.

HOYLMAN:  That would be possible if that`s Chairman Neal`s timeline.

MELBER:  Fascinating.  Super careful and fascinating.

HOYLMAN:  Thank you.

MELBER:  State Senator Brad Hoylman, we appreciate it.  Coming up, Trump and Barr have a brand new DOJ rule that could really crack down on press freedom.  A legal expert you have definitely heard of Dan Abrams joins me first time on THE BEAT next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Breaking news tonight.  The Trump Justice Department with a new indictment in crackdown that could challenge press freedom and the First Amendment.  Tonight, this now is history.  The Donald Trump administration is the first to ever charge a publisher in the United States with espionage.  WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange facing 17 new charges, this adds to his prior indictment, accusations that he violated the Espionage Act himself related to WikiLeaks famous release of stolen U.S. government documents in 2010.

Assange, a controversial figure for many legitimate reasons including the way WikiLeaks has worked with foreign actors, the way it is not like a normal publisher, the way he has been accused of trying to help people hack as well as allegations of sexual misconduct that remain.

But if you want to understand what`s happening tonight, you have to go beyond the legitimate criticisms of him and his checkered reputation.  Because you have to look at how he became such an appealing target for the Trump administration which has as you probably know tried to crack down on the free press in all sorts of ways.

Tonight`s charges raise much larger questions about all of these issues.  Assange was facing the charge of aiding Chelsea Manning trying to get a password that would have allowed her to access these documents.  The new indictment is not about that.  It now alleges that he did espionage by publishing and basically helping get that information, get the secret documents and release them.

It alleges the release of the materials, jeopardize national security.  That`s almost certainly true like most publishing of national security information.  But the indictment also alleges activities by WikiLeaks that I want to be very clear, the journalist that we rely on to get stories at the New York Times and The Washington Post, that they do also engage in.

Take a look at this one quote.  It alleges Assange publicly promoted WikiLeaks to encourage those with access to protected information including classified information to provide it to WikiLeaks.  In other words, the indictment is treating the activities that most top newspapers engage in promoting sources, giving them information, and gathering and publishing classified information, it treats that now as criminal plotting and claiming that is how Assange conspired to aid in abet and commit espionage.

This legal theory is not limited to foreign reporters, or foreign publishers, or people who only help hack.  It could be applied to a range of other journalistic activities far beyond anything you`ve ever heard about Julian Assange.

Joining me now on this very important story is New York Times National Security Reporter Charlie Savage.  He`s been reporting on this tonight breaking it for the paper, as well as Dan Abrams who you may know is certainly familiar with the legal side of all of this and also the journalism side.

He`s an on-air anchor right here at MSNBC for years.  He`s now Chief Legal Analyst at ABC News, also the host of Live PD at A&E.  And we`re lucky to have him away from those other jobs because he`s got a new book out today on Teddy Roosevelt which we will get to.  But first your view, Dan, of this indictment.

DAN ABRAMS, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS:  Look, he is the perfect target from the government perspective, right.  He is someone who does not narrow down exactly what he`s going to do.  You know, a great publisher will look at classified, illegally obtained information and they`ll say OK, this maybe we shouldn`t publish.  Maybe we should consult with the government on this one, etcetera.  None of that happens with Assange.

So from the government perspective, he`s the guy you want to put the test case on.  From the media First Amendment perspective, he`s the worst defendant you can possibly imagine for the exact same reasons.  He`s not the guy you want to be you know, your flag bearer.  You don`t want -- but that`s part of the problem in these cases right is that sometimes you don`t get the people that you necessarily want.

MELBER:  Let me ask you about the legal history here which you know having covered it.  The Obama DOJ under Holder was very aggressive about cracking down on both leaks and certain aspects of reporters.  They looked at this same case, they didn`t pursue it.  Now take a listen to the new president who has a very different view of the Free Press, Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I`m talking about the fake news media.  They are truly an enemy of the people.  The fake news, enemy of the people.  They really are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  -- that Donald Trump also likes WikiLeaks.  I mean, right?  I mean, if you think back to all the things he said about how great WikiLeaks is, now he`s prosecuting, his DOJ is prosecuting that wonderful organization.  Look, as a legal matter what makes this different is you`re talking about information that was illegally obtained.  That`s happened in many other cases, illegally obtained information.

That`s actually gone to the Supreme Court.  Media not going to be held criminally responsible just because something was illegally obtained.  What makes this different is illegally obtained and classified information.  That`s what is making this case a test case.  That`s what -- that`s what`s going to make this a dangerous case, and from a legal perspective and important and interesting one.

MELBER:  Charlie, when you look at this and you`ve been doing the reporting, is this a narrowly tailored indictment or do you view it as potentially ensnaring individuals that do reporting in America who are not Julian Assange?

CHARLIE SAVAGE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES:  The original indictment against Assange for collectedly conspiring with Chelsea Manning to try to crack a code that would have allowed her to log on under a different username to the classified network where she got all these documents was a narrow indictment.  That was a narrowly drawn indictment that did not -- that stayed away from traditional journalistic activity.

This expansion of the indictment is the opposite.  It has -- most of the charges relate to working with a source to obtain classified information which is something that investigative journalism in the national security world does every day.

MELBER:  So do you --

SAVAGE:  The Justice Department is -- go ahead.

MELBER:  Yes, yes, just because it`s a lot.  On that one point, Charlie, do you know reporters at respectable outlets who are -- who do that?

SAVAGE:  Every single day at the New York Times, The Washington Post, and every other news outlet, ordinary news outlet in America, national security journalists obtained classified information.  That`s what they do.  That`s how we report what`s happening in the world of war and surveillance and everything else that`s going on.

Now, the Justice Department is trying to minimize the constitutional implications of the precedent that they are establishing here or will establish if they -- if Assange is convicted, that that kind of activity can be a crime by saying that most of these charges are not about the act of publication.  So it`s about his conspiring with his source to obtain the information in the first place.

MELBER:  But that`s the question.  This is -- are they treating --

SAVAGE:  That`s what journalist do.

MELBER:  Are they treating news gathering, Dan, as conspired?

ABRAMS:  But I don`t think the journalists every day and work with sources to get them to break the law.  It`s true that --

MELBER:  You work with sources taking classified material.

ABRAMS:  Wait, wait, wait.  If they -- if they get -- work with sources to get classified information -- if it`s already been -- they already have it.  That`s different from saying OK, we`re going to figure out a way now where you`re going to break into the computer system of the United States of America and then you`re going to give me this information.

Now, that does happen on occasion, right?  There`s going to be a whistleblower situation.  They`re going to say, this is so bad, this is so horrible that we will work together.

MELBER:  Let`s put it -- Charlie, do reporters ever say not go --

SAVAGE:  Yes, Dan -- I`m sorry, Dan, you`re totally wrong.

ABRAMS:  Tell me why.  Tell me why.

SAVAGE:  Every single day, investigative journalists in the national security realm ask sources who have access to classified information to tell them things.

ABRAMS:  Wait, wait, wait.  That`s not what I just say.

SAVAGE:  The very act of telling a classified fact --

ABRAMS:  You just changed the subject.

SAVAGE:  -- to someone who does not have authorization to receive it is a crime.

ABRAMS:  Wait, that`s not what I said.

MELBER:  Very interesting.  I`m going to give Dan a rebuttal briefly, and then we`re actually going to talk about his book.

ABRAMS:  Good, good.  I think the point is that I`m not talking about asking them.  I`m talking about actually working with them telling them how to go about doing it, how to go about helping them break into the system.  That makes this different.  It may not make it different as a constitutional matter, but to sort of say Assange is just like everybody else is bad for journalists.  We shouldn`t lump in every journalist with Assange.

MELBER:  Before I go to the book, Charlie, what`s the next step in this case now that it`s an espionage case?

SAVAGE:  Well, so now in London where Assange is fighting extradition to the United States and to Sweden, these charges will come before the court there and the British court system has to decide whether to extradite him here facing these kinds of charges, not this -- the more minimal charge he was facing before.

That means they have to decide whether these same actions would be a crime under British law and if so they`ll bring him here and if not they`ll maybe decline to send it here. 

MELBER:  Yes.  It`s wild and it`s high-stakes and it`s a story we`re going to stay on.  Charlie Savage, thank you for your reporting and the colloquy as we call it.  Dan, before I let you go, I want to turn to you.  You`ve got a new book about Teddy Roosevelt.  When Elizabeth Warren was here who is a liberal but likes him, listen to what she said about her dream running mate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Your dream running mate throughout history living or dead if you could pick a person that would run with you.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Teddy Roosevelt.

MELBER:  A Republican.

WARREN:  Yes.

MELBER:  Because he took on the trusts?

WARREN:  Because he was brave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Why are you telling this story?

ABRAMS:  No, he was brave.  This is about a lawsuit though where he was the defendant.  He`s the former President of the United States, eight days on the witness stand, we have the full transcript of the trial, it`s been forgotten to history.  Franklin Roosevelt testifies in his defense as part of the trial.  He`s sued for libel.  And the trial goes for six weeks.  It was front-page news everywhere in the country in 1915 as you can imagine.

MELBER:  Was it on cable news?

ABRAMS:  It was not on cable news.  There was no BEAT back then in 1915.  It was pre BEAT times, but it was everywhere.

MELBER:  What does it tell us about America?

ABRAMS:  It tells us that we`re facing the same issues as we faced back then.  This case was fundamentally about allegations of corruption and money in politics.  And Roosevelt was accusing a party boss of basically being in the pocket of corporate interests, etcetera.

It`s the same issues we talk about today except the idea the former President United States being on the stand for eight days and by the way cross-examined by a lawyer who disliked him, disagree to them politically - - usually when we talk about history we see speeches or writings.  This is Roosevelt in his own words going back and forth with a really tough lawyer.  It just makes for -- as a lawyer -- non-lawyers are going to love it because it`s a thriller.  But as a lawyer, you watch this and you say wow, cross-examination of the president, the former President of United States for days and days.  And that`s why we wrote the book.

MELBER:  Wow, Dan Abrams, thank you -- 

ABRAMS:  Ari Melber.

MELBER:  -- for being here talking about more than one thing.  It`s great to --

ABRAMS:  Great to be with you.

MELBER:   The book is Theodore Roosevelt For The Defense.  Now, up ahead, there is a new indictment.  Remember when Mueller finished instead he`s spun off cases, well, there`s a new indictment we`re going to tell you about Mueller related next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  In other news today, the feds filing a new indictment of the case that was apparently spun out of the Mueller special counsel probe.  This involves a banker accused of bribery for giving millions of dollars to guess who, Paul Manafort, and he wanted to get it in exchange for a top job in the Trump administration.

Now, the feds say the banker basically gave Manafort a list of ten different jobs he would take including Defense Secretary and Treasury Secretary.  And get this, he was interviewed although for a lower level job by Trump`s transition team.  But if there was good news here, would only be this, he was never hired.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Tomorrow is Friday.  We have a very special FALLBACK.  Rapper and songwriter Tee Grizzley will be here right along with of course his main collabo John Flannery.  Now that does it for me.  Thanks for watching as always.  I`ll see you tomorrow.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

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