ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: This is THE BEAT with Ari Melber and we have a lot in tonight`s show. Republicans totally torching their defector Justin Amash, he left the party after reading the Mueller report and calling for Trump`s impeachment.
Later tonight, democratic leaders say a Trump cabinet official should go because of the special treatment he gave to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein who faces brand new charges from the DOJ right here in New York. And later, a challenger for Trump`s biggest enabler Mitch McConnell. I am thrilled to tell you, I have a one on one interview right here tonight with the New Yorkers Jelani Cobb on that and some broader civil rights issues.
So a lot to come in tonight`s show. Now we begin with new developments in what is to be clear the most significant congressional hearing of this year, if not the whole Trump era. Bob Mueller testifies next week and tonight, there are already clear signs, Trump`s team is worried and trying to get ahead of whatever Mueller will say.
Bill Barr has already just come forward, dismissing the hearing as a "spectacle" before finding out what Mueller`s even going to say and now Donald Trump`s criminal defense lawyer casting any testimony from Mueller that hasn`t happened yet as a let-down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP LAWYER: My sense is that Bob is going to testify. He`s going to stick to the - he said his report is his testimony. Now I expect his testimony is going to be his report. I think he`s going to stick to the report but I think that`s going to be - in that sense, I think it`s going to be the great let down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump`s lawyer makes two claims there, one is an opinion. Everyone has a right to review this hearing but reviewing it and stating opinions site on scene is not exactly very credible. But the other claim is factual in nature. The assertion that Bob Mueller`s testimony will stick to the report.
Fact check and fact checks don`t always end with someone being wrong. Jay Sekulow is correct about that. Here at THE BEAT, we scoured the 60 plus times that Mueller has addressed Congress and we found he does stick to his plan and the facts.
He deploys a dry style, he avoids theatrics and he focuses his testimony on the public investigative materials and he tends to swat away questions that demand more sensitive information.
So I`m telling you and our reporting suggests, Mueller will stick to that same plan, next week and questions designed to get him beyond the Mueller report`s careful, factual, balancing act will probably get the Mueller treatment. In fact, he can always go full reading rainbow in this quote from the report in any answers to questions.
Which is part of what he did in his only public remarks on this probe to date.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: And 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Meanwhile, Democrats are working to turn up the heat on team Trump before this hearing even begins revealing plans to subpoena some of the Mueller report`s biggest witnesses, guilty National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. Ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and of course son-in-law, Jared Kushner plus others linked to the hush money payments from the 2016 campaign which is part of a crime that Michael Cohen confessed to.
Now as the House prepares for this Mueller standoff, the issues here are broader than even that next set of subpoena skirmishes or whether the House ultimately opens a formal impeachment probe.
I want to tell you tonight the question, is whether the Mueller hearings will finally take up one of the most important documents of this admittedly gonzo political era and bring it to life for Americans because this report is damning, it is exhaustive, in some ways it is scary.
We`ve read it. I`ve read it more than once. It details a report operation to kneecap our democracy as we know it. It also finds no chargeable election conspiracy by the Trump campaign. And it also finds substantial evidence that President Trump committed the crime of obstruction more than once in office. It`s important stuff.
But as with all things in politics and in life, you have to know about it to care about it. Most Americans haven`t read the report so they don`t know how strong Mueller`s evidence is. And that`s understandable, they`re busy with jobs and life. What if your job is to do oversight of the executive branch?
Many members of Congress haven`t read this report either over a dozen openly admitting to Politico, they didn`t sit down and read the whole thing. Some even had it, what`s the point? Now what about people who have joined this book club. The only Republican to call from impeachment, Congressman Amash who I mentioned earlier, he left the party over this issue. He read the Mueller report and he says the vast majority of his colleagues have not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): People at home are reading the Mueller report. Most people don`t have time to read a 448 page report, there expect their members of Congress to do the work for them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of your Republican colleagues do you think have actually read the Mueller report.
AMASH: I think it`s probably less than 15 percent and I`d say that`s probably the case on both sides of the aisle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Both sides of the aisle. That`s important. There`s no greater proof here uninterested in actual facts as a politician than ignoring the evidence. And whether that`s for Republican politicians who don`t want to know the criminal evidence against Donald Trump in this report or for maybe Democrats who don`t want to know how rigorously Mueller investigated a potential Trump conspiracy and then wrote down in here, there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
Now, members of Congress acting like this obviously predates this Trump era. Makes us think of Michael Moore`s famous documentary, Fahrenheit 911 which touched on congressional ignorance. John Conyers famously admitting that the Patriot Act passed partly because members didn`t know what was in it and didn`t read.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could Congress pass this Patriot Act without even reading it.
JOHN CONYERS, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Sit down my son. We don`t read most of the bills. Do you really know what that would entail?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We don`t rain most of the bills, credit him for his honesty. And maybe most of bills, the ones that don`t pass, the ones that are written by one person with no fact finding or evidence of education, maybe most those bills don`t all need to be read line by line.
This isn`t most bills. And with that, we turn to an analysis of why this Mueller hearing has the White House on edge. Maya Wiley, Former council, the Mayor of New York City and former federal prosecutor, John Flannery, Special Counsel in three congressional investigations.
John, if they haven`t read it, they haven`t read it, I should say, should they read it? And will they learn something as well as the rest of America next week?
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think they should be fired. When I was on the Hill during the Starr report, we received it September of 98`. Yes and we sat there in separate rooms and read it cover to cover and we had successive meetings talking about it in great detail.
So I can`t imagine a greater failure for Congress than to decide to protect it against the usurpation of its power by the Chief Executive contemplated in the 1787 constitution that was concerned that a President with a monarchical bend would do exactly what we`re dealing with now and they`re not even reading the facts to know about it.
That`s a shame and a disgrace. I don`t think there`s any other way to put it.
MELBER: Maya, the way we`ve heard it from the White House as I showed, because it`s only going to be based on the Mueller report, it is therefore let down, is that true?
MAYA WILEY, FORMER CIVIL PROSECUTOR , SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Well, that`s what they hope. I think we heard from William Barr that he knows it`s not true, that`s why he wanted to pour cold water over it, call it a spectacle and also sort of signal to Bob Mueller, hey we got your back if you don`t want to do this.
The reality is they all know as the rest of us do, when Robert Mueller gave that very brief press conference and simply said the essentially what his findings from the report were, you saw a bump in the number of Americans who were now more willing to support some form of impeachment investigation and that`s because for many, it became much clearer that what William Barr told us the report said was not the same thing that they were hearing from Robert Mueller.
So what is critical here are two things one, that they will pay attention because Robert Mueller will say it himself. It doesn`t have to be embellished. All you have to do is read some of these facts to realize how disturbing and shocking they are, in particular on obstruction although not only on obstruction.
And secondly, Congress has to in order to have its effective subpoena fights lay the foundation from Robert Mueller in terms of the importance of the evidence he found why they need subpoenas to hear from these witnesses themselves.
So they also have a legal job to do here in terms of having Mueller testify.
MELBER: John, take a listen to some of the reporting we`ve done as we went through the archives because when Bob Mueller gets the question, he doesn`t want to answer for example, beyond the reporter speculating or even beefing with Barr, he has spent a lifetime, 60 hearings, we counted, dismissing those kind of questions, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: I hesitate to speculate because I am just as a piece of the puzzle also.
I would have to check to make absolutely certain.
In every investigation there - and particularly fast moving investigation there are steps are taken that may or may not work out.
And it`s very difficult to generalize or to reach some sort of understanding or make progress with that a generalization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLANNERY: Well, it`s how you question any witness and I`ve dealt with witnesses as you`re suggesting, he might act next week and in his case, he can`t be said to be speculating after 22 months of investigation. He can`t shirk a responsibility and it should be put to him in this way for cleaning up the confusion in this country, given the misleading statements by Barr who basically acted as a mouthpiece for the President.
And disassembled the conclusions that he came up with. Now, he can`t say, he`s a standby after he wrote letters to Barr complaining about what Barr did and there`s one letter he wrote, we don`t even know what it said. And it seems to me at the hearing, when he`s sitting there the question is put, you said such and such in report, isn`t that a fact, isn`t that perfectly right and quoting his footnote saying that Congress has the responsibility to go forward.
And asking him do we need any more as you suggest in your testimony to go forward with impeachment and that`s a discussion that should be had and he should be asked about in the second part of the report, how he said his investigation was unfinished and it was unfinished and he said, it was unfinished because the FBI hadn`t done a thorough investigation of the crime that we know to be collusion, transported to a criminal conspiracy.
But they never finished that investigation. Why is that Mr. Special Counsel? Why didn`t you do that investigation? Did Barr stop you? Did Rosenstein stop you? Give us an explanation, the country deserves it and needs to know why you didn`t finish what you were - you were told to do.
MELBER: Well, these are big questions for the Democratic House and it almost makes you wish if you believe that John Flannery is onto a good line of questioning, makes you wish some of the members of that Committee are listening to you, Sir. With that in mind, stay with me.
I bring in California Congressman Ted Liu who serves on the Judiciary Committee which will question Mueller next week. Thank you for joining us, Sir.
REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you Ari.
MELBER: Yes or no, have you read the report?
LIEU: I have.
MELBER: Yes or no, do you think Justin Amash is basically right that most of your colleagues have not.
LIEU: I think he`s somewhat right. It is a long report but if you simply read the executive summaries for each volume, you can get the gist of it. So I at least implore my colleagues to do that.
MELBER: Interesting, given the framework that we`ve been discussing. Your reaction to what you`ve heard from our talented lawyers here. Anything else you want to add right now?
LIEU: Sure. So the Mueller report is very damning. I fear reading it shows that the Russians attacked us in 2016, that there was some collusion and a lot of obstruction of justice. We need Robert Mueller simply to highlight the relevant portions of his report. We`re not looking for a Hail Mary here. We just need a first down. Every week we`re progressing down a feud, giving more facts to the American people and we look forward to July 17 when he can provide a lot of this information directly to American people.
MELBER: What are you going to do and your colleagues going to do if as we found, he basically goes out of his way to not say anything that isn`t already written in the report. I`ve just mentioned why I think as an educational matter, whatever one`s belief out there, it`s good to have a forum for people in Congress and in America to understand what`s in the report.
LIEU: Having said that, what are you going to do if he says I`m not going to be on the report. I am totally fine with that. This report has a lot of very damning evidence in it. If he simply would highlight the obstruction of justice sections, he can walk American people through how Donald Trump essentially committed multiple felonies as President and obstructing justice.
We`re simply trying to get the facts of the Mueller report out. We want to bring it to life and Robert Mueller is a perfect witness to do that.
MELBER: And Congressman, I want to give you the benefit of responding to the Attorney General. You are on the Judiciary Committee which oversees the Justice Department. It sounds like he is of the view, the most charitable way I can put it is he is of the view that he already knows what you and your colleagues are going to ask and he knows what Mueller`s answers are and he`s determined that it`s all a spectacle, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don`t think that serves an important purpose dragging Bob Mueller up if he in fact is going to stick to the report. It seems to me the only reason for doing that is to create some kind of public spectacle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Your response, Sir.
LIEU: So why is Bill Barr so scared of Robert Mueller testifying? It`s because Mueller is going to contradict what Bill Barr did in representing the report to the American people. Robert Mueller is going to show that there was a lot of obstruction of justice and Bill Barr when he represented this report, he really failed the American people.
That`s why I think Bill Barr is scared.
MELBER: Maya Wiley, the last word goes to you having walked us through this entire presentation. What do you think is most important for Americans watching who`ve heard about the Mueller report, who are obviously interested if nothing else to see how he sounds next week.
What is the most important thing to keep in mind when we actually watch something that we in our reporting have said maybe at times quite dry and careful. It`s not going to be from what we know, Bob Mueller coming out and saying this, oh there`s one more thing I forgot to mention here, the President`s a crook, it`s not really how it goes down.
WILEY: So the way this is going to work, I think does exactly as John said and as Representative Lieu said, getting Robert Mueller to really focus his attention and just say what the report says in key parts.
It`s not the 448 pages, it`s the - you said that there were people who materially lied and some of them, you brought charges against. How many others lied that you didn`t bring charges against? I mean, I would really - you can ask the question in a way that focuses the attention and just asks him to answer a fact question and walking through each one of those 10 primary instances of Donald Trump asking people to lie, fabricate evidence, just walking through those is - is I think not so dry, it`s pretty powerful stuff.
The other thing I would listen for is what he will not answer because of ongoing investigations.
MELBER: Right? And that`s a reminder that in the back of this thing, he`s got several referrals and that is a legitimate thing both for fairness and for the prosecutorial strategy they have, they`re not necessarily spill all the tea.
Maya Wiley, John Flannery and Congressman Lieu who will be on that committee next week, everyone I think is pretty interested. I appreciate each of you being part of our coverage tonight.
LIEU: thank you.
FLANNERY: Thank you.
MELBER: Appreciate it. We have a lot more to come including there`s new heat on a man that many think of as Donald Trump`s biggest enabler, Mitch McConnell with a new challenger and a lot of civil rights talk.
Also top Democrats calling for a top Trump cabinet official to resign over the accusations that he went soft on alleged sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein and the first Republican lawmakers to defect from the party, new wave today and a new debate over what it takes for the GOP to stand up to Donald Trump and the implications for 2020.
All that plus, one of our personal favorites, I always keep it real with you. I love her. Her name is Barbara Res and she is here on THE BEAT tonight to talk about New York dialing up the heat with a new bill that could force loose Donald Trump`s state tax returns.
So we have a lot left, I`m Ari Melber, you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: What is it going to take? You ever heard anyone ask that? What is it going to take for Republicans in Congress and other conservative leaders to stand up to Donald Trump when you look at so many things that he`s done that are against what they say they`ve stood for.
Some of them for their whole careers. Well, I can tell you tonight, it is official, the first Republican member of the House to formally defect from the Republican Party in the Trump era and there`s blow back that is illustrative of something much larger than any single congressional seat.
I`m talking of someone you may have heard of, his name is Justin Amash and he`s a famously independent sort of libertarian congressman. He has now left the Republican party. Tonight, it`s official. He filed as an independent and he sends a notice to Republican leaders that he`s "withdrawing from the House of Republican Conference immediately forfeiting his seat on a key committee and basically giving up some power within the party in exchange for trying to save his seat.
It`s a punctuation to where this all began. Amash, the rare member of the Republican Party who read the report and said hey, this is not OK. He made a call for impeachment hearings and impeachment probe and now in his first interview since leaving the Republican Party, Amash says all of this needs to be dealt with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMASH: When I was discussing impeachment, I had fellow colleagues and other Republicans, high level officials contacting me and saying, thank you for what you`re doing. So there are lots of Republicans out there who are saying these things privately but they`re not saying it publicly and I think that`s a problem for our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A problem of obviously fear in the face of the Trump political era. Amash says all of this has turned into kind of a partisan death spiral so he wants to declare his independence from the GOP. Political context though is broader. Even before defecting, there are reports that Amash would face a tough primary challenge because of his stance on impeachment.
And so while many credit him for what he`s doing and it seems completely genuine, he also has to formally withdraw from the Republican Party now in order to ensure he can even run for re-election under local rules to run as an independent.
And this goes to the larger issue of how primaries work now to insulate Donald Trump to basically be a weapon against anyone in many red districts he stands up against. Remember Congressman Mark Sanford.
He said Trump was nothing but trouble. He was ousted from his seat in a primary or Senator Jeff Flake, another critic of Trump, he didn`t withdraw from the Republican party but he didn`t run for re-election and admitted he couldn`t win that primary and that might explain why it`s easier for some high profile conservatives who don`t have constituents to defect.
Consider people who have left the party over Trump, some of them visible on television, people like George Will and Steve Schmidt, Max Boot, a former guest of THE BEAT who accused Republican party of losing its values and saying Schmidt said, look, this is not even an independent political party, it`s just the "party of Trump."
I`m joined now by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg and Editor at Large for Reason magazine, Matt Welch. Good to see you both.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR AT LARGE, REASON MAGAZINE: Thanks for having us.
MELBER: This does answer the question, whether it`s picnics or cocktail parties or any place people discuss politics of both what it takes for Amash as a constitutional conservative, it was the evidence in the Mueller report. What it takes and what happens, he couldn`t stay he believes in the Republican Party and criticize Donald Trump.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, I mean, do you - remember, right after Donald Trump was elected and there with this feeling the incredible pervasive crisis. There was this Saturday Night Live skit about how grateful nation is waiting for you know, Republican TK to come out and do the right thing and everybody wondered who that would be.
In this Saturday Night Live skit, they`re greeted with rapturous applause. In real life, they`ve basically been kind of consigned to the margins because of how much the base of the Republican Party, I think what we`re learning is that a lot of these doctrines particularly the libertarian economic doctrines that people like Jeff Flake, people like Justin Amash seriously believe in, were at best in bravery for the ethno nationalist resentments of the base of the party.
That`s what they`re in it for. They`re happy to jettison all the rest of it.
MELBER: But there - isn`t there also wider thing about political loyalty because Bill Clinton had an impeachment issue, I don`t know if you remember this and Joe Lieberman went to the Senate floor and rebuked him and was very critical more so than even some Republicans. And the Democratic Party responded in its leadership by Clinton`s running mate, making Joe Lieberman his running mate and the Democratic electorate seemed to welcome this as a kind of a page turner.
So is there something different here in the political culture of the Trump Republican Party?
GOLDBERG: I think that Democrats in general are much more concerned with how they are viewed by the country as a whole. I mean, remember the name of MoveOn which is now one of the most famous progressive groups in the country came out of what was considered the left`s response to the Clinton impeachment which was censure and move on.
There was no debate among the Democratic caucus.
MELBER: You said something so important. Let me underscore it and get Matt`s response. Michelle is pointing us out to a very basic piece of history that the Democratic party`s position in the mainstream on Bill Clinton, it`s President censure was harsher than its position today on Trump which is no impeachment, no censure in the main.
WELCH: I bet MoveOn.org would love to impeach Trump because everybody switches places every 20 years in American politics on some level. I don`t necessarily agree that that Justin Amash or anybody else or certainly Jeff Flake`s sense of economic conservatism or constitutional conservatism was from their own point of view an embroidery.
GOLDBERG: Oh no, I didn`t say theirs was. I said theirs was sincere in the party and we`re now seeing that a lot of the base of the party kind of never cared about all that stuff.
WELCH: Or they still think that they care about this stuff but that`s not worth losing their next election over. This is what we`ve seen. It`s the death eaters moment of the Republican Party. What happens when your party is in power, tells you everything and the person that all Republican voters are key oft is Donald Trump.
It`s not Lindsey Grahams voters who think about Lindsey Graham every day. Now he realizes that they think about Donald Trump every day and it turns out like Mike Pence, like a lot of people who said for years that free trade is important, that NAFTA is important, all these kind of things, they can ditch all of those in a hot second and not have to worry about it.
I think what Justin Amash does is he makes an institutional argument and it`s a good one. This predates his calling for impeachment. It is that Congress doesn`t do its job, period right now. It`s all whatever`s negotiated with Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker and the President and in most cases and they kind of present a fate accompli and you`re supposed to vote at the end of the year in the big Cromnibus bill, yes or no and that`s it.
And everything else is sort of a partisan scrum that you use to raise money off of. The whole thing is broken and it`s broken whether Nancy Pelosi is the head of the House of Representatives or somebody.
MELBER: You said Cromnibus, that`s omnibus legislation that`s mixed with the Cronos.
MELBER: Which itself is a - is a poor--
WELCH: What you can get on up with David Gore on Saturday morning.
MELBER: Final thought other than plugging up which is a great show.
GOLDBERG: You know, my final thought is that friend Al Press (ph) wrote this great book about people who break ranks, right? Why people - why some people are sort of willing to reject or corrupt institution, other people go along and what he found is that it`s often the people who are true believers, who are the ones who finally - the ones who kind of can`t abide corruption and compromise because they really - really believed in it all in the first place.
And I think that`s why you see people like Justin Amash, people like Jeff Flake, people like Mark Sanford, these aren`t the moderate, these are very, very conservative men who actually took all this stuff seriously and I think we`re seeing how few people in the Republican Party took that tea party ideology seriously.
MELBER: That`s a great point and you`ve written in ways that I think people know where you stand but you`re actually crediting what is genuine views that sometimes it`s the people who are even more conservative but in a genuine way that are beefing and the other folks who appear to just go along with anything.
I mean, Ted Cruz you know stood up to all of this up until he couldn`t and now doesn`t at all. Michelle Goldberg and Matt Welch, thanks to both of you. Up ahead, there`s a law that has just passed in New York that would give Congress access to Trump state tax returns.
We have an insider on that but first, a Democrat launched a campaign to unseat McConnell with a blistering character attacks. Jelani Cobb is here for that and much more in 30 seconds.
MELBER: Senator McConnell taking new heat today and making some controversial comments about race and bringing Barack Obama into it. McConnell was responding to NBC news report that notes that his great, great grandfathers owned slaves renewing questionsabout his stance on reparations. Now, here is McConnell bringing Obama into it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I find myself once again in the same position as President Obama. We both oppose reparations and we both are the descendants of slave owners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The New Yorkers Jelani Cobb is here to help us get into that and a whole lot more. It is a historical fact that Barack Obama`s ancestors, if you go back far enough, did include slave owners on his mother`s side. Also reports that he is a descendant of one of the first documented African slaves also then on the mother`s side.
Now, McConnell is facing all this and he is clearly trying to ignite or troll or excite and get people away from what you`re about to see, the news that he faces a very credible challenge from a retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMY MCGRATH, FIGHTER PILOT: Everything that`s wrong in Washington had to start someplace. Well, it started with this man who was elected a lifetime ago and who has bit by bit, year by year turned Washington into something we all despise, where dysfunction and chaos their political weapons a place where ideals go to die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Jelani Cobb from The New Yorker is here. Good to see you.
JELANI COBB, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, NEW YORKER: Good to see you.
MELBER: You know, when we get a story like this, and this is a story I think you`d agree. I like having you around. You are a non-pundit. And so I`m not going to ask you about the Kentucky crosstabs poll. I am going to ask you what we should make of the device that Mr. McConnell is using and what is the substantive takeaway in your view.
COBB: OK, there are a few things, here are a lot of things to talk about here. one is that it`s obscene for Mitch McConnell to compare himself to Barack Obama in that regard. Now Barack -- true, Barack Obama is a typical and that he has a descendant -- he`s a descendent of slaveholders on his mother`s side.
But does Mitch McConnell really want to talk about how if you`re looking at the single largest grouping of people who are descendants of slaveholders, you`d be looking at African-Americans because of the institutionalization of rape of black women during slavery. And so most of us could say the same that we`re descendants of slaveholders. And so --
MELBER: You`re saying the -- you`re observing a historical fact that if you go down this road of ancestry, black Americans --
COBB: That`s right.
MELBER: -- have to put it in Mr. McConnell`s terminology, the descendants of slaveholders because they were institutionally raped as a sexual slavery.
COBB: That`s right. That`s right. And so the whole foundation of the question of reparations at least as it pertains to slavery is to repair the damage that`s been done beginning there and passing down through successive generations.
And so no, that doesn`t get you off the hook Mr. McConnell, and it`s an obscene kind of inversion of traumatic and morally troubling aspect of American history.
MELBER: He also seems to be trying to say through this device to the public well, debate over our history will get very potentially, allegedly confusing very quickly. But there are other --
COBB: Not really.
MELBER: I think what he -- no, you don`t think so and I think you make a very good point but he sort of trying to say that. I put up on the screen here the NAACP rating of his civil rights record, in other words, history is relevant also for how we live and what we do, and he has an abysmal record on civil rights which would be a difference between him and Barack Obama in terms of what they`re doing with their power in office.
COBB: That`s right. And also if we`re going to talk about this like Barack Obama has inherited race as a headwind. It`s something that had to be navigated in his life. And Mitch McConnell race has been a tailwind.
And when we talk about you know, like my friend Ed Baptist in his book The Half Has Never Been Told, there`s a whole body of literature on this that historians have written about the ways in which the wealth generated by slavery has passed down successively not just through individuals but through institutions and corporations and so on.
And so when we look at these questions, it`s not kind of abstract that we can just go oh let`s muddy the waters and we don`t understand what`s happening here. The moral lines are very clear. And so maybe this is an attempt to distract from the entry of Miss McGrath into this race but it has the potential of actually going down the roads of some very ugly historical paths that are no more beneficial to him I don`t think.
MELBER: What do you think is the message to people who want to overcome to using the language of the 1960s? Let`s say gosh, why are we always talking about history?
COBB: We don`t understand the present without talking about history. Like the present is the product of the past. And we don`t have any problem with that as it pertains to the things that we think of virtuous about this country.
If we talk about the roots of the Constitution and the things that the framers were concerned about or why there`s a First Amendment, why there`s a Second Amendment, what the 14th Amendment minute means, all these things that we think are the hallmarks of American democracy that can be proudly shown to the rest of the world.
In that case, the past is perfect. We can always import that into the present. But as we start talking about the ugly legacy of this country, it`s foundational sin of exploiting Africans and nearly exterminating the indigenous population that became the basis of what we call the oldest constitutional democracy in this country to take a point to remind ourselves that democracy in this country is younger than the actual Constitution.
And so when we`re talking about the ways in which American democracy was birthed by the struggles of people who have been excluded from it to turn this into a fair assemblage of what could be called a democratic nation, that`s when we actually see the relevance of history and nobody wants to go there.
MELBER: I hope people are listening closely. You used several important things. One of the things you just said is democracy is much younger than this country.
COBB: Oh yes.
MELBER: And the nostalgia of the political movements that attach to make America great which was Reagan and Trump, imagines a time when things were much better and that of course then raises the difficult question of better for whom.
COBB: That`s right.
MELBER: Because as a democracy, well it wasn`t a democracy for women for most of history. It wasn`t a democracy for minorities. It was a democracy obviously for the Native Americans who are wiped out in genocide. So at what point then do we have these conversations as part of the daily politics and news because they are not underneath, they are actually the over organizing fight that`s happening.
COBB: You can`t have a democracy when the majority of the population is disfranchised. We`re still having to struggle now. We look at what`s happening in 2016 on the horizon for 2020 and the battles over voter access and voter suppression and all these kinds of things. But at the beginning, the outset of the country is very explicit and very clear. Most people who lived in this country could not vote.
And so it`s problematic to say that we will start with the kind of halcyon days of American colonialism and we`ll talk about the ideals of the Founders without talking about the ways in which they were circumscribed and circumvented by racism, by sexism, by classism, by the struggles that people to this day are waging to actually have a decent shot at living in a democratic nation.
MELBER: Very important point, Jelani Cobb --
COBB: Thank you.
MELBER: -- who gets the last word on this. We also want to note McConnell`s challenger Amy McGrath will be on this network next hour on "HARDBALL." More on I`m sure this and related topics and I want to make sure you knew that.
Up ahead, we have a lot more on the show. Donald Trump defending a top aide under fire for the deal he struck with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a lot more on that. Democrats also with a new plan to get Trump`s taxes in his home state. And breaking news on a new rebuke for Trump on this census controversy, the contra that keeps on giving. That`s breaking this hour coming up.
MELBER: New developments in the fight to get Donald Trump`s taxes on his home turf. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signing a bill allowing Congress now to actually legally take his state tax returns whether he likes it or not. The idea is that Congress will then fulfil its responsibilities so that no one is above the law.
New York is, of course, Trump`s home state, it`s also the home to Trump organization, many of his real estate interests. And the new law comes as Democrats in Congress are separately suing to get the federal returns, so a lot of developments here.
And we turn to one of our favorites, former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res and an author to a book. Thanks for being here.
BARBARA RES, FORMER EXECUTIVE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: My pleasure.
MELBER: How does Donald Trump feel when he sees his native New York here this week passed an explicit law to get his state return?
RES: Oh yes, he feels like everyone`s after him and that`s just another example of you know, oh my God, the world is closing around him. But does he -- is he worried about it? At this point, I don`t think so, not yet. I think he thinks his lawyers are going to protect him because look at what he`s done. This is just dealing with little New York State.
I mean he`s managed to avoid subpoenas, he`s managed -- he`s not listening to the Supreme Court, he doesn`t follow any rules at all so I think he`s probably taking this OK for now.
MELBER: Why do you think he hides his taxes?
RES: You know, at first I thought well, this has something to do with maybe the charitable contributions that he doesn`t make, and then you know, maybe he doesn`t make as much money as he says he does and he`s always been that way years and years and years.
But now I`m wondering if it isn`t you know just a financing where that money`s coming from and who he`s getting money.
MELBER: Right. That it could be embarrassing or unsavory and that kind of thing.
RES: Well, yes.
MELBER: When you worked for him, did it feel like traditional exaggeration? There`s plenty of folks in business in media who hype or was it more acute almost more intense.
RES: It`s absurd about everything. I mean, the things you say about his schooling, about his wife being an Olympic athlete. I mean, you know, everything was completely -- you know, he almost seem -- how can I believe this? And yet interestingly enough in the beginning, most of us believed a good deal for it he said. Because you know, you think people are going to be honest and it`s your boss.
MELBER: What changed your mind?
RES: Oh after enough time and you know, also finding out the facts when you would say something then you`d see that it was just you know, completely wrong.
MELBER: I read and I always like to rely on you for the extra insights. I read that he doesn`t really vacation or take time off or spend time with many friends. Is that your experience working for him?
RES: Yes. He hated Christmas because he went away for a week and I don`t think he wanted to say to leave the company alone without him that you know, we would all do something --
MELBER: You know, Barbara I wouldn`t just say that I`m an expert on Christmas and its culture but I think when you make a list of people throughout history who hate Christmas, it`s a short list, no?
RES: Well, you know, they went to Aspen every -- and he likes to ski, but he just -- he didn`t -- he didn`t -- also, by the way, Christmas meant bonuses and that killed them to give away money.
MELBER: If we get -- if the United States actually gets the New York tax returns, what do you think would be the most important takeaway on the state side of that information?
RES: On the state side, I think it`s going to be you know, just what the - - what federal stuff rolled into the state because we`re you know, what`s your number on line 42, it just goes right into the state. I mean it mimics the federal tax. There`s going to be a lot of information in there.
MELBER: You know, you know what I think the kids would say about you, Barbara?
MELBER: You keep it real.
RES: Thank you.
MELBER: You know we appreciate that.
RES: Thank you.
MELBER: The one and only Barbara Res, a BEAT exclusive. I hope you come back.
RES: I love to come back.
MELBER: I`m going to fit a quick break but we actually have some breaking news that I mentioned just beforehand. Not only this Epstein`s saga with Donald Trump defending the cabinet secretary who brokered this sweetheart deal but a new rebuked in court. We`ll explain.
MELBER: Well, it`s one of those nights. We just got breaking news right here in our NBC headquarters. A new rebuke by a federal judge for the Trump Justice Department in that controversial census case. Basically, it`s looking like it`ll be harder for the Trump DOJ to swap out the lawyers which was one of the latest controversies in that case. That`s breaking and I have a lawyer to get into that and a whole lot more because the other big story is fallout in this Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking case.
Donald Trump came out today and defended his labor secretary Alex Acosta as there are calls for him to resign over the fact that he gave Epstein a very lenient plea deal in 2008 as U.S. Attorney down in Florida. Trump now says he feels actually very badly for Acosta. Now, many of these details were exposed in a 2018 Miami Herald investigation by journalist Julie Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIE BROWN, REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD: I started this project before the launch of the MeToo Movement, before Harvey Weinstein`s story broke, but I did better -- I think this story and this -- and my journalism benefited from the MeToo Movement because we certainly are at a point in our culture where we`re looking at these cases or I should say giving these cases a lot more scrutiny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Scrutiny and a lot more facts which is important. Brown`s reporting is so crucial SDNY prosecutors actually cited it when they announced these charges this week.
GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SDNY: We were assisted from some excellent investigative journalism.
WILLIAM SWEENEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI NEW YORK OFFICE: We work with facts when the facts presented themselves as Mr. Berman hinted at, through investigative journalists` work. We moved on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: They moved on the facts. Facts matter. Now that office which you`ve probably heard of for its toughness, the SDNY is acting as part of the Trump Justice Department in a place where this other Trump cabinet official Acosta didn`t back when he was a prosecutor a decade ago.
Now SDNY has brought a lot of big, tough, controversial even cases over the past year and some have gone the other way and put a lot of heat on Trump and his associates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Today as you heard, Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight felony charges.
Today we announced criminal extortion charges against Michael Avenatti.
Today we announce the unsealing of sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So how does SDNY work, what are they doing? I am joined by Jaimie Nawaday, a prosecutor with that office and your first time on THE BEAT. Thanks for being here.
JAIMIE NAWADAY, FORMER PROSECUTOR, SDNY: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: The first question for people trying to make sense of this on the substance and how it works. Mr. Epstein seems to have gotten a very soft deal from federal prosecutors. Now, this week he`s getting a much tougher treatment from federal prosecutors. What`s happening?
NAWADAY: Well, the non-prosecution agreement that was reached in Florida binds only the Florida prosecutors. So the SDNY is a completely separate office, it was not a signatory to the non-prosecution agreement in Florida, it`s not bound in any way by that agreement. So it`s free to start its own investigation.
The way the non-prosecution agreement was carried out and what Acosta seems to have done is really go out of his way to shut down the possibility that another office would pick up this case.
MELBER: So here`s a prosecutor that Trump says he feels badly for, well, you say rather than prosecuting, he was actually trying to protect, why?
NAWADAY: Well, that -- I mean that`s the big question. There obviously a number of red flags in how this non-prosecution agreement was negotiated. The fact that Acosta held meetings off-site instead of at the U.S. Attorney`s office, one of the first things you learn as an AUSA is the motto that the Eagle doesn`t fly.
You have meetings at the U.S. Attorney`s Office. I`ve never heard of an assistant U.S. Attorney let alone the U.S. Attorney`s himself or herself having meetings at a local hotel with defense attorneys.
MELBER: The Eagle doesn`t fly because the prosecutors call the shots and so letting this potential defendant decide anything is not how you do it.
NAWADAY: Correct. It suggested they`re dictating the terms and that`s exactly what happened here. They were able to dictate the terms in terms of not contacting witnesses, keeping it quiet from the press, and then, of course, Acosta shuts down the investigation not only as to Epstein but as to everyone else while the FBI is actively interviewing witnesses across the country.
MELBER: Now, what does it tell you about Geoff Berman who was a Trump appointee, he runs the office he used to work at, what does it tell you that he is willing to do something that clearly embarrassed is this Trump cabinet official while also going after Michael Cohen, while also going after Michael Avenatti?
NAWADAY: I think -- I mean, I think it`s a very encouraging sign. And he came in in a very tough environment because when Preet Bharara was fired, he was very vocal about the fact that he was fired essentially for his independence. And so there was understandable concern across the office about who would come in next and would the mission of the office and this independence be upheld.
And so Berman really had to come in and give the message to the office that the -- its independence would not be disrupted and I think he`s done a very good job of communicating that message through these various prosecutions.
MELBER: Yes, there`s a lot here that is obviously disturbing and that we`ve been covering, but you point to something at least in your view is actually a positive, a piece of good news which is the rule of law and the independence of this office going forward, even amidst tremendous pressure and alleged obstruction.
As we`ve noted, that`s going to be discussed next week. A lot of the stories clinging together a little bit. Jaimie Nawaday, thanks for coming on THE BEAT. I hope you`ll come back.
NAWADAY: Thank you. Thank you.
MELBER: I really appreciate it. We`re going to fit in a break and be back with one more thing.
MELBER: Thanks for watching THE BEAT tonight. That does it for me. We`ll be back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow with a lot of special stuff. But don`t go anywhere because "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