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AG Barr on opposition to Trump. TRANSCRIPT: 5/31/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Paul Butler, Sophia Nelson, Richard Blumenthal, Matt Welch, LizPlank, Richard Stengel, Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, Erick Elliott

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you.  Have a great weekend.  That`s all we have for tonight.  Anyway, we`ll be back more -- Monday with more MEET THE PRESS DAILY.

And if it`s Sunday, it`s "MEET THE PRESS" on your local NBC station.  I got a big show.  The White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Beto O`Rourke, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.  Don`t miss that show.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.  Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That is a big Sunday show.

TODD:  Thanks, brother.  I appreciate it.

MELBER:  We`ll be watching.  I hope you have a great weekend until then, sir.

TODD:  I hope so.

MELBER:  Welcome to this Friday edition of THE BEAT.  Now, let me start just real simple.  For many Americans, this was Mueller week.  The special counsel speaking for the first and only time in his role, but Trump Attorney General Bill Barr is clearly pushing ahead to make it something else, to make it sort of Barr week.

And he`s got this new interview that actually, and this is kind of interesting, it may help Democrats because it doesn`t exactly rebut critics who say Mr. Barr acts more like Donald Trump`s personal criminal defense attorney than the attorney general of the United States.

And Barr also know what`s he`s doing so he`s got news.   He dishes some little tidbits of news of his own here, recounting even when he first got the letter of rebuke from Mueller for, according to Mueller, not capturing the scope of the report, of confusing the public.

And Barr uses dramatic language today to dismiss concerns about his own reputation and then he goes ahead and basically defies Mueller.


JAN CRAWFORD, CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS:  The special counsel is a little sharper on obstruction.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES:  He`s trying to state the bottom line.  And the bottom line was that Bob Mueller identified some episodes.

He did not reach a conclusion.  He wasn`t exonerating the president but he wasn`t finding a crime either.

Rod Rosenstein and I felt it was necessary for us as the heads of the department to reach that decision.  Many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.  Many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.


MELBER:  Many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.  Now, in fairness, the Mueller report itself does not state in its treatment of the evidence that every instance discussed was amounting to obstruction.

So I want to be clear there.  Barr is doing a lot of things that look a little bit embarrassing to him but that doesn`t mean that everything he says has no legal basis.

So what`s wrong here with this picture?  Well, the Mueller report does state that its whole point and purpose was to provide the evidence to enable Congress to make a decision, not have the Barr summarize it or re- summarize it or mischaracterize it or rule on it.  And that is something that Barr again deflects on here.


BARR: My purpose there was not to summarize every jot and piddle of the report and every you know, angle that Mueller looked into but just state the bottom line which I did in the four-page memo.  I said that Mueller did not reach a decision.  He gave both sides.

Again, I wasn`t trying to provide all the flavor and nooks and crannies of the report.  Rosenstein and I reached a decision and the criteria we applied in finding no obstruction.


MELBER:  The fact is we already know Bob Mueller thought the summary wasn`t just inadequate or incomplete.  But as he thought about his old colleague, you see here in some file footage, he thought this man who he used to work with, who he clearly respected fundamentally, lost the thread.

And that`s why he immediately committed his objections in writing telling Mr. Barr the summary didn`t capture the context, the nature, the substance of Mueller`s work and its conclusions.  And that was selling public confusion.

Now, I can tell you for the first time, Barr is actually recounting his side of receiving that unusual letter of rebuke from a man who, again I want to say this respectfully but I think accurately, a man who at this juncture has far more public credibility than Mr. Barr.

Now, Mueller and Barr shared that long history and Barr reflected on that as well while talking about this letter he got from Mueller.


CRAWFORD:  He wrote the letter taking issue saying that you had caused confusion.

BARR:  Uh-huh.

CRAWFORD:  Did that catch you off guard?

BARR:  Yes, sure.  I was surprised he just didn`t pick up the phone and call me, given our 30-year relationship but --

CRAWFORD:  Why didn`t he?

BARR:  I don`t know.


MELBER:  I don`t know.  I don`t know.  Well, maybe our guests know, Jason Johnson, politics editor for "", Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, and Sophia Nelson, counsel of the GOP House Oversight Committee.  Good evening to each of you.



MELBER:  Paul, Mr. Barr would have us believe that he doesn`t understand why lawyers sometimes do things in writing rather than pick up the phone, super cash when you are old buddies.  Can you help him and the rest of us understand?

BUTLER:  You do it to preserve a record.  You do it because you don`t trust the guy you`re writing the letter to.

There`s no reason why Mueller should have trusted Barr.  Barr mischaracterized the report that Robert Mueller spent two years working on which is about our national security.

MELBER:  So just fact-checking that point, when he says something that I think could sound reasonable to people, right, if I knew someone for a very long time and I said, "Oh, why didn`t they just call me?"  In, casual parlance, that`s a reasonable sounding to say.

You`re saying that he is trying to sound reasonable while hiding the fact that this really was a blowup between them that was bad enough to be in writing?

BUTLER:  Yes, what Bill Barr did when he had that fake press conference where he mischaracterized the Mueller report is put the interest of Donald Trump ahead of the interests of the United States.  So there`s absolutely no reason why Mueller should have had any confidence in him.

MELBER:  Sophia?

NELSON:  Yes.  I mean he`s exactly right.  At the end of the day, Attorney General Barr is really I think damaging himself.  And I don`t want to get too far ahead of you but his comments in the interview this morning were just unbelievable about people dying and reputations be damned.  He really doesn`t care.

So I think that Paul`s dead on that at the end of the day, we lawyers, like to have these things called present sense impressions and we like to get things down on paper because we want to preserve a record that we did disagree.

And clearly, Mueller felt that he could not trust Barr to pick up the phone to say, hey, you`ve got to go back out and correct yourself because he didn`t get it right the first time.

MELBER:  And you`re talking about what he says everybody dies?  Because you`re familiar, of course, with the new source material.  Let`s hear that.  Go ahead.


BARR:  Everyone dies and I`m not -- you know, I don`t believe in the Homeric idea that immortality comes by having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?


MELBER:  Now, Sophia, based on what I know and it is Friday of a long week, but my understanding is everyone does die.


MELBER:  So that is true?

NELSON:  That`s real.  That`s true.

MELBER:  That is real.  That`s very real.  So real sometimes people don`t even want to think about our own impending death.  We`re all just packages of cells that will eventually expire.

But you`re saying that he`s doing something wrong there.  What is wrong with him saying that?

NELSON:   But there`s something else about this package.  It has a soul.  And my problem is the soul of the Republican Party has been lost, the soul of this attorney general has been lost.

Because at the end of the say, this is about the constitution of the United States of America.  And Robert Mueller and his team spent two years and $35 million in taxpayer dollars.  And two guys Rosenstein and Barr decided to overturn it and make a different analysis than the men and women tasked to do do it for two years.

Who by the way, were following the DOJ, OLC analysis as you know?  So they were actually following DOJ guidelines for Barr to say otherwise is disingenuous.  And I do fear that he is like the grim reaper here in this interview like I`m going to die so reputation be damned.

Doesn`t he have children and grandchildren?  Doesn`t he want people to think well of him when he leaves this earth?  I know I do.

MELBER:  I`m really torn.  I`m going to be very honest.  And I love what you`re saying about the soul.

But as I kick it out to Jason, I`m going to be honest.  It`s one of those things where it depends who says it.

JASON JOHNSON, EDITOR, THEROOT.COM:  Because if the most enlightened person you know did say it in the right context, your honorable grandfather, your really humble yoga teacher, everyone dies, yes let`s take that in.  But he`s saying it as a rebuttal to the fact that people, including -- we`ve had them on this program and others, people who worked with him, who respected him, who thought he was better than this are aghast at his performance.

It`s not about whether or not you die.  It`s about whether your reputation, your professional work, the oath you take to the office matters, Jason.

JOHNSON:  Well, again, Ari, what Barr is basically saying is I don`t care what anyone thinks because I`m working for Trump.  Many men wish death on me, I don`t care, right.

I`m going to be here.  I`m going to do what Trump wants me to do.  And at the end of the day, I think history will reflect well on me.  But this is the other thing that I think --

MELBER:  But at the end of that 50 Cents -- the end of that 50 Cent line is I`m going to be who I`m destined to be.

JOHNSON:  Exactly.  And that`s what Barr knows.  He knows that at the end of the day, this administration continues.  That he will be -- he`s going to be the hand of the president.  He`s going to continue to do this kind of work.

Remember, next summer, you`ve already heard the president say that he wants Barr to possibly be the point man on investigating Joe Biden or investigating Hillary Clinton.  So he`s thinking of the long game because he doesn`t care what`s happening now.

MELBER:  Right.  That is going to be a surgical summer as it were.

JOHNSON:  Right, exactly.

MELBER:  Paul?

BUTLER:  Yes.  Some of this is with regard to Mueller, him not being as direct as he could be on these issues.  So you know, Ari, you and I are big hip-hop heads.  The thing I love about that culture is it`s direct, it`s in your face.

MELBER:  Sure.

BUTLER:  That`s not how Robert Mueller flows.  And so when I might say Trump is a thug and the attorney general is a liar, what Mueller says is well, I didn`t have enough evidence to charge -- well, actually, he didn`t even say he didn`t have enough evidence to charge Donald Trump with a crime.

What he said is Bill Barr and the Department of Justice won`t let me charge Trump with a crime, but if I thought that he was innocent, I would tell you that.  And I`m not telling you that.

And what he says about the attorney general, Mueller writes that letter where he says, "Well, you didn`t exactly capture the substance and context of my 400-page memo."  Again, that`s calling Barr a liar just not saying it as direct --

MELBER:  Right.  But doing it in those --

BUTLER:  -- as a hip-hop there would.

MELBER:  Right, in those careful ways, which again is what makes him a good prosecutor and the kind of person you would trust to navigate difficult issues without fear or favor and prejudice.  But we are out here in the post report period.  The 68 days between the report being turned in and him speaking in public and what that did.

And then the question, Sophia, you worked as a counsel to the Congress, in a committee, and the question of how the Congress is struggling with that.  And that`s where -- again, I mean we`re just calling it as we see it.  There are Democrats who very clearly seem to be struggling with how to talk about this, even the ones who say they`re for an impeachment probe.  Take a look.


We need to change public opinion.

The Judiciary Committee should begin impeachment inquiries, inquiries.  All right.

Democrats have to keep our eye on the prize.

To impeach without removal is I think a mistake.

The inquiry is not the same as the filing the, you know, articles of impeachment.

That`s not impeachment.  That is to determine.  It`s the first step.


MELBER:  At this juncture, Sophia -- I see Jason shaking his head.  Go ahead, Jason.

JOHNSON:  Yes.  This is so --

MELBER:  And then Sophia.

JOHNSON:  This is so ridiculous.  This is why -- I was very happy to see Senator Harris and Senator Warren this week came out and said, "You know what?  Once I became president," as they were speaking confidently, "I`m going to send a memo to the DOJ and I`m going to get rid of it because a lot of this comes from the fact that Mueller was like I can`t do anything.  I can`t indict a sitting president."

That`s sort of the core around this.  So all the dancing around that the Democrats are doing now is also because of an interpretation at the Department of Justice that needs to be clarified or changed.  If we have a president that can`t be indicted, you`re going to get that kind of word salad from Mueller and that`s where this problem comes from.

NELSON:  Ari, let me say this. Of all the Republicans that are ducking and hiding, I`ve only heard Justin Amash and recently former Defense Secretary and Congressman Bill Cohen who was on the Nixon impeachment, Judiciary Committee in the House as a Republican.

And he said something I want to leave people with today which is Congress, do your job.  This isn`t about whether or not you`re going to get reelected.  It`s not about whether or not you`re coming back.  You took an oath to the Constitution.

What Mueller laid out in 400-and-some pages of his report, I read it all as I suspect all you did, were serious high crimes and misdemeanors.  I`m over my neighbors and everybody else trying to skirt around this and say how this president is being picked on.  He`s not.

And at the end of the day, the Congress has to do its duty and they must start an inquiry now because it`s time.

JOHNSON: But I think there`s --

NELSON:  It`s time for them to do it.

JOHNSON:  Yes, I think we have a conflict though between doing the right thing and the politics.  So if Speaker Pelosi`s endgame is to get Donald Trump out of office, impeachment might actually interfere with that endgame because of the politics.  So that --

NELSON:  Who cares?

JOHNSON:  Where is she going?

BUTLER:  No, it`s not --

NELSON:  Who cares?  It`s the right thing to do.

JOHNSON:  Well, you might care if you don`t want Donald Trump to be president and you don`t want him to get re-elected but no one can predict what impeachment is going to do in 18 months.

NELSON:  So we let him continue to commit crimes and obstruct and do bad things?

JOHNSON:  That doesn`t make any sense.

NELSON":  That`s crazy.  I`m with you, Jason.  I mean it just makes no sense to me to keep making this argument that we let him get away with it because we fear losing elections.

That`s not America.  That`s not what this republic was founded on.  It`s not OK.

JOHNSON:  I hear you.  I hear you loud and clear but you got to give Speaker Pelosi credit.

She`s not the most powerful woman in the United States for no reason.  She`s a master politician.  She knows her strategy.

NELSON:  This is about the constitution, not about politics.

JOHNSON:  I don`t think it`s strategy.  I don`t think it`s a strategy.

MELBER:  Sophia and then Jason.

NELSON:  No, I`m just saying this is bigger than politics.  And that`s where patriots come from.  And that`s what`s profiles encourages, it`s when men and women like Margaret Chase Smith and others stand up and they say this is wrong, McCarthy.  We`re not doing this.  I don`t care if you send me home packing and I never get re-elected again.

At some point, we have to make a decision what we value more, the Republic and the values of the republic or do we let this president continue to embarrass us.  Bill Barr talked about eroding the institutions.  No president has done more damage in two years than all of them combined for 240 years than this one has.

That`s my opinion.  But that`s how I see it.

JOHNSON:  I wouldn`t necessarily go that far at this point.  But I will say this, it doesn`t have to be an either/or.  Look, the problem that I`ve had with Speaker Pelosi is she was throwing water on this before we even got the report out.  That was the problem.

She has basically been discouraging and sending out a chilling effect to the entire House saying no, no, no, don`t take this position, don`t take this position.  I don`t believe she`s playing three-dimensional chess.  I don`t believe she`s playing a long game.

I think she`s simply afraid and doesn`t think she has the votes.  And the problem is just like you have to convince the American public that impeachment is a good idea, you have to convince your own members.  And she`s not letting them do that by saying she doesn`t want to go for it.

MELBER:  And it`s fascinating listening to each of you make such interesting arguments across the board and that also, the point you end on, Jason, is the bar point, which is do you treat this as something that`s just happening and watch it happen or what he did, right, unlike say your criticism of Pelosi.

He came in very clearly with a view and he abdicated it and he articulated it and he may have moved people on it.  And we are at the highest stakes of inter-branch, legal, political, constitutional clashes.

And who is fighting with a clear message and who is not I think is a part of this as we really end what was Mueller Barr week here and Mueller breaking his silence?  My special thanks to Jason, Paul, and Sophia.  Learned a lot from you guys tonight.

JOHNSON:  Thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  Thanks to each of you.

NELSON:  Thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  Coming up, we have a lot.  Democrats have a plan for Bill Barr and Donald Trump.  Senator Richard Blumenthal from the Judiciary Committee, pivotal, is here with me.

Also, later, how the Republican obsession with AOC may actually get bipartisan legislation to clean up lobbying.  I`m not joking.  We`ll explain.

And later, a disturbing report about one of Donald Trump`s favorite authoritarians.  Rick Stengel is here on the stakes.

And some news about the Mueller report.  I`m going to give you something special that I want you to know about.  That comes later.

And of course, it`s Friday.  I`ve got the Flatbush Zombies here as well.

You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  Here`s something you don`t see every day.  The sitting attorney general of the United States which is one of the most nonpartisan offices that is supposed to exist in the entire government name-checking the political opposition to the president and saying there`s no evidence that Donald Trump is shredding institutions but really it`s the resistance.


BARR:  I think it`s important that we not in this period of intense partisan feeling destroy our institutions.  I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it`s President Trump that`s shredding our institutions.  I really see no evidence of that.

And from my perspective, the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that`s where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.


MELBER:  I`m joined by Senator Richard Blumenthal from the Judiciary Committee, a former federal prosecutor.

You take these issues seriously.  And I don`t make light of them but I am compelled to say at the end of this week with Mueller breaking his silence, Attorney General Bill Barr`s argument boils down to I know you are but what am I.

I mean, what is he doing talking about the resistance shredding institutions and how would citizens shred institutions?  They`re not in charge of the Justice Department.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  You know, what William Barr is doing to the Department of Justice and to the rule of law is so disgraceful and shameful.  All you have to do is go over what Donald Trump has said about the Department of Justice, about the brave and dedicated men and women of the FBI, about judges, Obama judges, and about the rule of law in this country.

And clearly, it is he, Donald Trump, the president of the United States who is shredding those institutions.  Nicolle Wallace did a wonderful segment which showed Trump`s statements over a period of time.  And for William Barr to blame anyone but the president of the United States for undermining the credibility of those institutions, particularly --

MELBER:  Is it even appropriate, Senator, for him to be holding forth his random opinions about the propriety of the resistance?  I mean why would the attorney general do that at all?

I get, by the way, the campaign folks do it.  They have every right, that we`re going to have a big boisterous debate in the country but is that really where the A.G. should be?

BLUMENTHAL:  He is very cleverly and deceptively using the power of T.V.  We saw it with --


BLUMENTHAL:  -- with Bob Mueller in nine minutes.  He didn`t work to move the needle than weeks, maybe years of commentary.

MELBER:  You`ve mentioned that.  I`ve heard this a lot.  I`ve heard from people in Washington that Barr understands Trump`s obsessions and so he has been leaning into them no collusion talking points, things that can be tweeted and then, of course, television.

Did it strike you that in this new interview, he`s in this sort of cabin environment with the fire over the corner and the vest?  Do you read into that at all?

BLUMENTHAL:  I read into that very ingenious use of demeanor, style, background, obviously the fire roaring, the vest, the informality, all designed to create an impression.

MELBER:  So which by the way, we have expected from our presidents and our politicians.  You`re a politician as well as a senator, right.  You have a government job and you`re a politician.

But to see the attorney general, I mean there`s something concerning there, even though I`m not suggesting but it`s certainly different than many other attorneys general.  And the other thing I want to push you on is your party.

You mentioned Nicolle Wallace, our great colleague who has done great break downs.  Jimmy Kimmel of all people who happens to be a comedian but a clear speaker.  And he put your speaker to task on this.  Take a look.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Well, we`ve been on that path for a while.  And when we do get to where we`re going, we`re going to be ready.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE:  But it feels like we`ve been on the path for a really, really long while.

PELOSI:  We really have.  Well --

KIMMEL:  Like since the `70s.

PELOSI:  It has to be clear to the American people and we have to hope that it will be clear to the Republicans in the United States Senate.

KIMMEL:  And you think that those Republican senators, even if they know he committed a crime will side with Donald Trump?

PELOSI:  They have been every day.  Not one of them has spoken up.


MELBER:  Does he ever point about pressing her to start an impeachment probe?

BLUMENTHAL:  He has a very, very good point about the impatience of the American people with the criminality of the president, which is --

MELBER:  No, I have to ask you.  Is that a yes?

BLUMENTHAL:  Here`s where I agree with Speaker Pelosi and with my Democratic colleagues who are demanding an impeachment inquiry as they call it right now.  We need accountability.  That ought to be our guiding principle, whether it is in the Congress through an impeachment proceeding or in the courts or in the court of public opinion at the ballot box.

But what`s really important here is that we know what we have in common which is there have to be hearings.  And it comes back to the power of television, the word from Bob Mueller`s mouth will continue to move the needle.

I`ve been out in the State of Connecticut for these past several days.  At nine parades or more, ceremonies, all kinds of meetings with constituents.  And clearly, opinions are evolving and changing.  That`s the power of --

MELBER:  Right.  Which is a fascinating part of this now in the week that Mueller has spoken.  Senator Blumenthal, thank you so much.

Still ahead, we will be joined by a top Obama era diplomat about Trump`s affection for authoritarians.  But first, the freshman star, the Democratic class, AOC says pray for me as she teams up with the last person you might ever expect when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Now here`s something you might not see every day.  Freshman Democratic star AOC and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz joining forces.  Now, here`s how it happened.

AOC announced she thinks members of Congress should be outright banned from becoming lobbyists after they leave office.  Senator Cruz tweets he agrees.  OK.

AOC responds, "Let`s co-sponsor a bill, let`s do something about it" and Cruz responds, "You`re on."  And this is Ted Cruz, the same guy who mocked AOC for noting airport croissants cost almost half as much as the hourly wage for so many people who work at airports and also blasted AOC`s own Green New Deal.

SEN.  TED CRUZ (R-TX):  I support cows.  I hope to see PETA supporting the Republican Party now that the Democrats want to kill all the cows.


MELBER:  And AOC who is good with digital organizing posted a video saying she`ll do almost pretty much anything to get money out of politics including, which includes working with Ted Cruz.  She added, "Pray for me."

Today, AOC also shines a light on income and equality.  She`s spending the day bartending in Queens.  This is the same job she held when she was running for Congress.  And she`s got the promise again to make this all come together in one story which is getting money out.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO CORTEZ (D-CA):  They call it working class for a reason because you are working nonstop.  We`re up against an opponent.

He`s taken $3 million per cycle from Wall Street, real estate, and pharmaceutical companies.  We need to have the courage to stand up for working people and stand up against corporate interests.


MELBER:  So let`s take a break from Trump and talk about this partnership with the partnership of our own.  Libertarian Matt Welch, editor-at-large of Reason Magazine and Progressive Liz Plank, host of Vox`s "Considerate."  Nice to have you both here.



MELBER:  A lot of people see Twitter as an endless place of angry tirades and cliches.  Although there`s plenty of good stuff that goes on as well.  Walk Us through AOC using what might have just been a little moment to actually force potential action.

PLANK:  Yes.  I think AOC working with Ted Cruz is kind of like Batman working with the Joker.  And you might disagree on who Batman is in this analogy.  But I can let the people at home decide who they feel is Batman.

But yes, it`s a very unlikely duo.  It`s very surprising and it`s very surprising because actually in the documentary -- in that documentary you put in at the beginning, you see that one of her first viral moments as a - - sort of on the national stage was actually going after Ted Cruz in a tweet where he was going after net neutrality, using the word snowflakes.

And she said "You know you`re a sitting senator.  Comcast made you X amount of money to put out this tweet.  Your records are public.  We know how much money you`re getting from these lobbyists."

So it`s really interesting to see them now work in concert together when at the beginning, their feud, I guess them feuding was such a point of stardom for her.

MELBER:  Yes.  And Matt, I want to get you on both the politics and the substance.  There`s certainly a bipartisan or nonpartisan view that the abuse of the lobbying system, right, is nothing liberal or conservative about it.  To a lot of people, it`s just rank corruption.

But when it comes to Cruz, we wanted to have on a prominent supporter of Ted Cruz and we just couldn`t find one.  And I say that not to be mean but look at even in his own party.  It`s well-known.  We`re going to show some Republicans, prominent Republicans who`ve always had problems with him, too.  Take a look.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  If you kill Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you.

JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:  Lucifer in the flesh.  I get along with almost everybody.  But I have never worked with a more miserable son of a (BLEEP) in my life.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Everybody hates Ted.  It`s a very tough thing.  They all hate him.  I mean, for a lot of reasons but they all ate him.

MATT WELCH, EDITOR AT LARGE, REASON:  I mean he stabbed his best friend in the Senate and the ribs, Mike de Leon, on the criminal justice bill in 2016 at a -- at a very crucial moment, completely surprised him.  So yes, he has this reputation that precedes him.  I hate to be the guy to get in the middle of a perfectly nice and fun cross-partisan Twitter legislation.

MELBER:  You`re a libertarian.  You always find something.

LIZ PLANK, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, VOX:  You have to ruin the party.

WELCH:  I`m am not sure this passes constitutional muster.  I mean, the Constitution enumerates the right to petition your government whether you like the petitioners or not, whether they`re paid or not.  We don`t like them.  We don`t like members of Congress.  We`ve found two classes, the people that we despise.

And a lot of American politics right now is like OK, so this group, I don`t like it.  Great!  Let`s punch them somehow, right?  So I`m not --

MELBER:  You`re saying -- you`re saying we live in a world where now people say the idea of lobbying is a dirty word on the left and the right but you can be lobbying as an anti-war protester, you could be lobbying your government for anything.

WELCH:  (INAUDIBLE) Planned Parenthood, whatever.

MELBER:  So you`re actually concerned about the simplicity of this plan.

WELCH:  And also the AOC idea and this is something that progressives I think have to learn every generation is that when you have a big idea about telling businesses what to do or Americans what to do, that is regulation, right?  This is -- Elizabeth Warren as the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable regulator running for president since Ralph Nader.

So if she gets her way or if the Green New Deal is passed, what is that going to do?  That`s not going to drive lobbyists out of business.  That`s going to drive lobbyists in business because people are going to want to lobby to protect their interest against government.

MELBER:  Paradox -- you know, we try to have some fun here.  We end up in a paradox.  Response?

PLANK:  Well, I think -- I think you`re right.  And a lot of people have been saying you know, it`s too simplistic it`ll increase chatter lobbying, right.  People will find other means of doing it.  But I think it still reveals sort of the paradox of the AOC effect that Republicans seem to hate her but they kind of are in awe of her and they -- I think there`s more Republicans than we think I think -- I mean, there`s a lot of covertly -- I think  there`s a lot of action -- like more covertly happening in Washington where Republicans want to work with her and want to be associated with her because she`s popular.

MELBER:  Well, and briefly, don`t a lot of Americans look at this to the lens of who`s going to fight for them and not always the partisan polarization?

PLANK:  Yes.  And that`s what she does not social media, right?  She doesn`t use social media to talk about herself, she uses social media to listen, and not just to her constituents but also now we`re seeing --

MELBER:  So lightning-round.  Given that it started on Twitter, what Emoji would you give for the likelihood of the success of this -- of this bill.

PLANK:  Can I -- I don`t think I can say it on television.  It`s the --

MELBER:  Well, then don`t.

PLANK:  I won`t.  It`s the not very nice -- like it`s the poop Emoji.

WELCH:  I think --

PLANK:  It`s you know, probably not.

WELCH:  I think we have to erase that one up to the 100, sadly.  It`s not - - it wouldn`t be signed into law and if it got that far it wouldn`t pass constitutional muster.  But I agree, it is fun and clearly game.  Respect game when it comes to social media on the --

MELBER:  Matt Welch with keeping it 100 and a game reference.  Let`s reflect on that.

PLANK:  Kind of, right?

WELCH:  You`re the one who invited us, Ari.

MELBER:  And I don`t regret it.  I don`t regret it one bit.  But I did want to let this moment sit.  Matt and Liz, thank you so much.  We take what in the business, it`s called a serious turn because we cover more than one type of story here.

So coming back with diplomacy and an authoritarian who is accused now of executing the team that was trying to meet with Donald Trump, a controversial and important story.  And later, "FALLBACK FRIDAY," a lot more on THE BEAT.  Stay with us.


MELBER:  Now, we turn to a grisly story that is airing out some very troubling questions about Donald Trump`s affection for authoritarians and even brutal dictators.  North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reportedly had a person executed by a firing squad.

Now what they`ve done according to a source is execute the very envoy who was helping arrange the February summit with President Trump and four other officials.  Now reportedly this official which you see right here was also put into a prison camp and then reprimanding his sister who is apparently now laying low.

All of this because of the fury about how those February talks about nuclear weapons did not work out.  Now, this kind of report is obviously quite serious which is why we`re telling you about it.  This is a report that NBC News has yet to officially confirm tonight.  It is based on an anonymous single source who spoke to his South Korean newspaper.

Now, Secretary Pompeo was asked about it today in a press conference in Berlin and says the State Department has seen the report and they are checking it out.  And all this comes just days after Trump said he was not really bothered by Kim Jong-un`s missile tests and he amplified Kim Jong- un`s attacks on a U.S. former Vice President Joe Biden.

All of this is coming together at a time of incredible tension for the relationship and these questions about Donald Trump`s foreign policy.  I want to bring in a former Obama diplomatic official and journalists Richard Stengel who joins me for this conversation.

And to begin, let`s just look at the way Donald Trump talks about this very dictator who today stands accused as we say in a non-confirmed report of this execution.  Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He`s a tough guy.  Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, tough people, and you take it over from your father.  If you could do that at 27 years old, you -- I mean that`s one in 10,000 that could do that.  So he`s a very smart guy, he`s a great negotiator.  But I think we understand each other.


RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY:  You know, Ari, one of the things you learn when you`re traveling around the world for the United States is that leaders of bad moral character attract other people of bad moral character.  Leaders of good moral character attract both.  And Trump for some reason seems attracted to the leaders of bad moral character in the case of Kim Jong-un, an autocratic dictator who executes his enemies, who`s never run for election.

The fact that he is having praise for this man at the same time while Angela Merkel is in the United States and he doesn`t say anything about her who is a bastion of democracy, it`s a tragedy.

MELBER:  So you see it as coming from his personal judgment and that also means that he`s resisting the folks that do the jobs you did, the diplomats who would say we don`t want to be seen especially for getting nothing in return at a geopolitical sense.  We don`t want to be seen as just giving comfort to this type of authoritarian.

STENGEL:  You know, I don`t want to be an armchair psychologist but he has authoritarian personality.  He`s attracted to other authoritarians.  He`s envious at people of leaders who can rule without having checks and balances or having to deal with the people.  And those are the people he somehow empathizes with, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping.

MELBER:  Well you -- and you mentioned Putin and this goes to the part that`s really bad but not criminal.  I`ve been reporting on how the Mueller report does not find a conspiracy with Putin and the Trump folks.  And that was something people were concerned about.  And in fairness to them, that crime was not charged.

And then there`s the really terrible thing regardless of no crime as you say which is this -- what you call this interest in authoritarians, and it goes back.  I mean, we just pulled this for you -- for your analysis, 2013 Donald Trump on Putin.  Take a look.


TRUMP:  He`s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he`s representing.  He`s done an amazing job.  He`s put himself there really as -- you know, a lot of people would say he`s put himself at the forefront of the world as a leader.

I think that Putin has done an amazing job of showing certain leadership that our people have not been able to match.

STENGEL:  Yes.  I mean, he admires strong men.  And one of the things that unites Putin and Trump as they both weaponized grievance, right.  Putin weaponized the grievance of Russians who felt like the world collapsed when the Soviet Union collapsed, and Trump is weaponizing the grievance of Americans that feel left out.

What does Putin want to do?  He not wants to make Russia great again.  What does Donald Trump want to do?  I won`t even say that slogan, but that`s the attraction.

MELBER:  Yes.  And so, ultimately how does the State Department where you work deal with this?  And this is the human side that is sort of hard to even ask about, but what does it mean but you go into these rooms and across the table, you`re looking at people that the stakes are so high they might be killed if they don`t get the right thing out of the meeting?

STENGEL:  Well, I have to say, one of the things that that always made me feel great when I was a diplomat was that the things that we said in public about what we believed in justice, human rights, were the things that we actually said in private.

I hope this administration is doing that same thing in private even though they don`t even endorse these things in public.

MELBER:  Richard Stengel, former State Department official under the Obama administration, thank you for your insights on this.  I really appreciate it.  Coming up, it has been a long week but we`re going to get into a whole lot of "FALLBACK FRIDAY" including new reports of UFOs in The New York Times, and the Flatbush Zombies are here next.



MELBER:  It`s Friday on THE BEAT and you know that means.  It`s time to fall back.  We have a very special Brooklyn fall back tonight with the music group the Flatbush Zombies.  Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Elliott who are childhood friends from Flatbush in Brooklyn and they`re hitting it big, two albums in the Billboard top 20, and a new album Escape from New York plus appearances on The Tonight Show, collaborating with artists from Wu-Tang Clan and Brooklyn big shot Joey BadAss, and they`re performing in the supergroup Beast Coast at this weekend`s Governor`s Ball, a huge show featuring The Strokes and Nas.  Thanks for being here.

ERICK ARC ELLIOTT, RAPPER:  Thanks for having us.

MEECHY DARKO, RAPPER:  Thanks for having us.

ZOMBIE JUICE, RAPPER:  Thanks for having us.

MELBER:  Exciting times for you guys.  Who needs to fall back?

ELLIOTT:  Social media.

MELBER:  Social media.  Why?

ELLIOTT:  Social media takes a big fall back.  I think wall tethered to it a little too much.  I think that it`s necessary for us to exist nowadays to be on the phone and on the internet, but I think it`s doing so much for us that we don`t realize.  I think that we`re ignoring social interaction.

I`m looking at you directly in your eyes.  I think for someone who is texting a lot, that person probably has a problem with that.  There`s a little bit of anxiety mixed in there.  Sometimes your go on the phone to kind of avoid conversation.  So people rather text then to meet up with somebody in person.  I think those are things that are like problems man.  We need to really check that.

DARKO:  Yes, and like to expand what he`s saying, one thing we talked about earlier, I even get my news from social media, you find out everything from social media.  If you don`t want to find something out, you stay away from social mores.  That`s how much information is on social media.  So I feel like we need to go back to a time where eye contact is very important.

It`s funny to me when I`m in a social gathering and there`s so much interesting people around and someone goes to their phone.

MELBER:  Do you find that.  I mean, people your age at a party are on their phone --

DARKO:  All the time.  Even my age, I was on elevator the other day and I look at the man about 20 years older than me.  I see him pull out his phone and I look at his screen and he did nothing.  That was just his way of not looking at us in the room right.

MELBER:  Right.  It was like his anti-Zen.

DARKO:  And when he goes back into his room, he`s probably going to go on social media after and drift off and waste hours.  And I`m glad they added that thing that show of you how long you stay on social media now so you could really like monitor yourself because it`s very important.

JUICE:  Personal relationships, you know it takes away from emotional personal relationships.  You feel like you want to talk to someone online, you don`t want to go meet them anymore.  It`s like the game tenders.

MELBER:  Right.  It`s everything becomes gamified, yes.  What other fallbacks do you have?

JUICE:  I think simple arrests marijuana possession should take a fall back.  Although marijuana is available to about 20 percent of Americans recreationally, it`s still minorities and are getting arrested at very high rate.

So while some people are out selling their CBDs, selling their tinctures, getting high doing yoga somewhere in Portland, you notice still poor black and brown people getting arrested at a very high rate, getting their life taken from them, thrown in jail, getting in the -- getting everything took away from their rights to getting student loans, to even participating in the $3 billion merging cannabis industry.

MELBER:  A lot of places and the law enforcement side, a small amount of pot is a little bit like loitering.  You could charge people for it but when you look at the data who gets charged, right, it becomes a performance of discrimination. 

JUICE:  It`s roughly 50 percent minority, roughly 50 percent.

DARKO:  What about the people, are they going to --

JUICE:  And there are still people -- yes, there`s still people in jail -- that are still in jail for life.

DARKO:  Because -- what hurts me is when I see article like mom from Denver makes millions off of her new brownie company, and I`m like a dude from high school, that I went to high school with is in jail.  That hurts me a little bit when it`s like -- not a little bit, a lot when these people are still in jail for some weed that they sold ten years ago, maybe.  They made a mistake ten years ago.  And that`s the biggest parts of me.  Yes, make it recreational, but what about all the people that are still in prison right now from this --

MELBER:  Yes, that`s really well put.  I`m going to throw in my fallback, and I don`t know if you saw this on the news.  There`s a some real talk about the military being concerned about actual sightings of unidentified flying objects.  Read this.  Yes, this is New York Times reporting.  Military pilots saw a sphere encasing a cube in orbit.  And the object is flying at hypersonic speeds, sudden stops, instantaneous turns which is they say beyond the physical limits of a human crew.

And then get this.  An incident so spooked the squadron, an aviation flight safety report was filed.  No one in the Defense Department is saying the objects were extraterrestrial.  They`re not saying they are aliens but they`re telling us they`re maybe not human and everyone is just chill about this.

DARKO:  Well what it is -- UFO means unidentifiable flying object.  It doesn`t mean it`s an alien so this means I have no idea what that is.  It`s just funny to me that they`ve been using the same descriptions for UFOs for about 100 years now.  Aliens apparently have not gotten faster and it`s just -- I don`t -- I don`t know what to believe.  I`ve been looking in the sky.  I haven`t seen anything yet.

MELBER:  But when you read --


MELBER:  When you read this -- yes, and some of the -- why are people more concerned about this?  I think it`s --

DARKO:  They`re looking in their phone.

JUICE:  Because they`re looking at their phone.  You can`t look up when you`re looking down.

MELBER:  You can`t look up when you`re looking down.  What is your "FALLBACK" Meechy.?

DARKO:  Oh, my fallback.  NCAA basketball and the sports program as a whole.  I think it`s very unfair that a lot of these young kids like they give everything to a program and they make people like me -- I know what -- I know about basketball and college sports from people like Jalen Rose and all these people, and they got nothing from that college.

(INAUDIBLE) is a prime example.  He`s probably the biggest draft pick in history of basketball and sports in general.  He made not even a dollar or a penny.  If I was to try to bribe him to feed him and give him sneakers or meal, he might go to jail or and I might go to jail for trying to offer him money.

Meanwhile, these same schools are making millions of dollars.  I think coaches are making maybe up to $6 to $8 million.  Coaches might be making $8 million.

MELBER:  Right.  Everyone is making money but the people that everyone goes to --

DARKO:  And I think that they should set up a program of some sort that if a kid is talented enough and his number is selling jerseys, then even if you give him a fraction of a percent that when he gets out of college, he has some form of money or she has some form of money so they can understand finances and have something.

Because the thought of me playing for a team and representing something for the rest of my life and not getting anything from it and looking at my screaming at me knowing that he`s going to get another batch of young talented kids the next year and another batch.  And NBA is stopping these kids from going straight from high school into the NBA and I don`t think that`s fair because not everybody is built for college.  Suppose a guy slips on a banana peel and his knee breaks, it`s over for generations in his family.  And he`s the one to take those risks.

MELBER:  And he might have the best shot at any income for his family or community.

DARKO:  And he might be the best thing we ever seen since Michael Jordan.  I don`t want to see his leg break in college, I want to see that in NBA.

MELBER:  Well, these are -- these are some of the conversations we like having, which is why we wanted to have you on "FALLBACK FRIDAY.  Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, Erick Elliott, Flatbush Zombie, thank you, man.


MELBER:  My special thanks.  And now, I want to tell you a couple of things.  Number one, ahead of Mueller`s historic statement this week, what happens next?  I`m going to tell you an announcement about that here at MSNBC coming up.

Also, I want to tell about breaking news out of Virginia Beach this evening.  Police say 11 people killed in a shooting at a municipal center next to the city hall there.  The officers have taken a suspect into custody.  They believe the suspect was acting alone based on what we`re hearing from law enforcement at this time.  Six other individuals we`re told in early reports have been hospitalized.

This is all a breaking story so we`re going to keep our eye on it and bring you more updates across  MSNBC as we get them.


MELBER:  A quick thought experiment before we go.  How differently would the last two months have been for everyone if after Bob Mueller finished his report, everyone heard from Bob Mueller first and not Bill Barr?  Here is your experiment.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL:  As set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  The Deputy Attorney General and i concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.


MELBER:  Mueller didn`t speak for 68 days after he turned in his report.  So is there anything to be done about it now?  Well, Congress will figure that out.  We are going to give you though, if you`re interested, a special report on MSNBC with some of our best legal experts this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, looking at Mueller contradicting the Trump-Barr claims, to reigniting of the impeachment debate, two Mueller aides debating his approach, no holds bar.

We`ll get into all of this, our special report, Mueller speaks, and I`ll be anchoring it 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday night.  I hope you consider joining us right here on MSNBC.

Don`t go anywhere right now though because "HARDBALL" is up next.