CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: about changing public opinion on the right. Will it have an impact?
THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now.
Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. And we begin THE BEAT with breaking impeachment news.
We are as Chuck just mentioned we are on the eve of history in Washington and perhaps for the nation. Hours away from this impeachment testimony going public for the first time on live TV, and I have a lot in tonight`s show.
Let me begin with the context. President Trump bracing as more bribery testimony emerges, undercutting his defense. And a new preview that we got moments ago on what the Democrats think might be the strongest case to impeach Trump. So we`re going to get into all of that.
Now the GOP defense has said, among other things, there`s a new way to defend Trump, with four points in a written memo. Now some of them, as we will document, can be proven false, could be fact checked, so we have more on that tonight.
But the development storyline also is about Donald Trump`s top aide, someone we talked a lot about recently on "The Beat," Mick Mulvaney. He pulling out of a court fight, caving in this impeachment suit that was actually technically against Donald Trump himself and now saying he will basically try to follow his boss`s orders and not testify.
If this sounds familiar? Yes, it is classic Mulvaney. He moves around a lot. He was apparently looking for cover. He was trying to join John Bolton`s lawsuit, I did a breakdown of that last night, then he pulled out of that. Saying he`d file his own suit, essentially asking a judge to tell him whether or not to testify against his boss Trump.
As if that wasn`t enough, and again people can judge for themselves whether Mr. Mulvaney`s public problems are helping or hurting Donald Trump, but now he`s tapping out and claiming that he has absolute immunity.
One thought about absolute immunity, if you really have it you wouldn`t be filing all those motions to begin with. Mulvaney`s lawyers say that they will "Rely on the direction of the President."
So here`s what we have. Mulvaney clearly concerned both about what he`s going to say to defend Trump and whether he has his own exposure; Trump`s inner circle worried about who will go to the mat for this President as the evidence piles up.
And then this news from another top Trump aide tonight, former National Security John Bolton, NBC News reporting, that he was trashing Trump`s foreign policy. This was in a private speech last week, saying he believes Trump`s personal or business relationships were actually dictating the President`s position on a whole different country - on Turkey.
Well that matters if part of the impeachment case is about Donald Trump abusing foreign policy powers to enrich himself or to help himself politically. Those comments, obviously, magnified with Bolton waiting on whether or how he will testify. He has reportedly referred to the entire Ukraine bribery plot as a "drug deal" and he wants to tell all.
He`s also got a book deal. He`s also potentially a key witness in these hearings that the first public ones begin tomorrow. But even without Bolton this impeachment investigation has already shown clear cracks in Trump`s case. And does he know that? Well let me show you some new reporting on how it`s playing.
"New York Times" says Trump has considered firing the intelligence community Inspector General. He was the one who initially deemed the whistleblower complaint both urgent and credible, more officials also lining up providing the facts and the evidence to support the allegation that there was quid pro quo bribery. Consider State Department official, Laura Cooper, effectively added to the list we`ve been keeping hear of people who`ve alleged facts to support bribery.
Meanwhile, two other officials have already confirmed the plot, Diplomat Bill Taylor and State Department official George Kent. They are expected to lay it out in the public hearings tomorrow. That will be new.
Republicans, well, here`s their response with hours to go. You`re looking at the selection of basically a lengthy memo. There is a new talking point in here that the money that ultimately went to Ukraine means maybe there was no plot - if they got the money they wanted.
Donald Trump basically saying, well, if there was an attempted plot, but they ultimately got the money, maybe no harm no foul. And then we have breaking news as well, as I was walking out onto the set. I don`t have the sound yet. But Adam Schiff has just spoken. He`s obviously the point person for the Democrats on impeachment. And he has said something about what tomorrow`s public hearings may look like. So this is new.
Bribery, Mr. Schiff says, is what the Founders understood not just what is understood in the law today - I`m told we just got the sound. We`ve been waiting to get this in. This is Adam Schiff - and think about the context. He`s teeing up the arguments that are going to form the foundation of tomorrow`s dramatic public hearings. Mr. Schiff bringing in the bribery word as a core way to potentially impeach the President. Let`s listen it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): First of all, as the Founders understood bribery, it was not as we understand it in law today. It was much broader. It connoted the breach of the public trust in a way where you`re offering official acts for some personal or political reason, not in the nation`s interest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I want to bring in Heather McGhee, Senior Fellow at Demos and Nick Akerman, Former Watergate Prosecutor. Good evening to you.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Good evening.
HEATHER MCGHEE, DEMOS, DISTINGUISHED SENIOR FELLOW: Good evening.
MELBER: Nick, I start with you here. I apologize for making you do such live breaking news, but we were literally scrambling to get the actual audio tape. We have the written part. And I want to read it again, because close viewers of this on THE BEAT have heard us report on this.
But a lot of people here tuning in and saying wait a minute what`s all the impeachment all about. Mr. Schiff saying it is fundamentally about Donald Trump "offering official acts for a personal or political reason." What is the significance of Chairman Schiff discussing impeachable bribery tonight?
AKERMAN: Well, bribery is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution as an impeachable offense. I mean we clearly have is bribery. There - under any definition, whether it was back in the time the Constitution was written or up to today, bribery is bribery. Even if you take the statute that`s on the books today, it still comes within the bribery definition.
The quid pro quo has to be done with a corrupt intent. Corrupt intent is simply an improper purpose. When you start going out and taking $400 million that`s appropriated by Congress to defend the Ukraine and then you hold back a visit to the White House that the Ukrainians need in order to give them the posture that they want against the Russians, not to mention the funds they need to defend themselves against the Russians. And you demand in return that you investigate your chief political rival, I mean that is classic bribery.
MELBER: And this seems to go to the Republican defense, which I mentioned, which we`re going to cover more in the hour. And I think it`s very important to look at the defenses. But it seems that Chairman Schiff here is outlining a theory of the case for tomorrow. He didn`t say this a month ago and he didn`t wait till after the public hearings.
Today, on the eve of the public hearings, he says the Founders had a broad view of bribery. The Republicans say, well maybe we didn`t ultimately hold up the funds. I ask you is that a valid factual defense?
AKERMAN: Absolutely not. I mean, an attempted bribery is the same as bribery. In fact, what the facts do show is, that but for the fact, that certain people in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, prevailed on the White House to release those funds not knowing what was going on behind the scenes with Rudy Giuliani and the rest of the crowd that was trying to get this quid pro quo for investigating the Bidens. That money was released.
It was only by coincidence, if they had waited a couple of more days, it would`ve been effective. I mean, this was a classic attempt of bribery no matter how you define it.
MELBER: Before I turn to heather, because you are a Watergate special prosecutor. You have the unique experience of what it means to investigate a President. Before I turn to Heather, where do you view Chairman Schiff`s strategy tonight focusing on bribery rather than obstruction and other issues? How would you grade it?
AKERMAN: I would give it an A+. This is his opening statement. This is part of their opening gambit on this thing. This is phase three of this whole impeachment proceeding. It started off with the closed hearings. People got a little bit of information.
Again second phase was the release of the transcripts. People got to really see what this was all about. But tomorrow is it. This is this is game time, show time. We`re actually going to hear from the witnesses. You`re going to get a real feel for how they felt at the time, what they saw, what they heard Trump say during this phone call.
You`ve got Ambassador Taylor who`s got very meticulous notes and he kept of all of his conversations. I mean this is like the Nixon tapes all over again.
MELBER: Wow. Heather McGhee, I turn to you. And Nick has handed lot of the law. I turn to you, as we often do, as a broader voice on the left - of the Senate left. Your view of what it means for the Democrats to be unveiling some of their argument as they go into these hearings tomorrow.
And big picture for folks, as I mentioned some folks live in lives busy, what does it mean to have impeachment hearings start tomorrow? Tomorrow history will be made. It is a very big day. But I want to make sure that we`re judging it, not just about the television optics, right? I think we made that mistake with that with the Mueller testimony, but rather making the very plain case.
As I think the Democrats have actually done a very good job of so far of doing it exactly what Mr. Akerman just said, laying out the fact that Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to do something that would be in his personal and political interest. And used the office of the presidency, the office of the purse of the Congress, and in many ways, our foreign policy and our national security to do so.
That`s got to connect back to Americans lives. I mean I sat there watching on Monday Donald Trump in my town of New York City at the Veterans Day Parade, someone who decided to use as any excuse he could not to go into service when he could, stand there and laud the service of veterans.
At the same time he`s absolutely been corrupting our national security policy for his own ends personally, financially and politically. You got to make those connections to say that it`s not just that he`s a bad guy, because kind of everyone knows he`s corrupt. But it comes home to roost. Right? He`s putting our brothers and sisters-in-arms in danger by warping our national security policy for his own ends.
I mean, think about what happened in Syria right after all of this came out. It is very much connected. His ability to just turn a blind eye to what`s in the best national interest for whatever person is in his ear talking about how he can personally gain, that`s just threat to our national security.
MELBER: Yes. you mentioned national interest, we cited the reporting about John Bolton raising flags with other countries. We do not know how much any of this investigation about Donald Trump`s potential abuse of the powers of the presidency to help him win re-election could overlap with the secrets in the famously hidden tax returns, where there is questions about whether there are business interests that compromise it here.
And if someone is willing to, according to the Democrats argument, seek a bribe for the personal political interest, they may also be up to their personal enrichment. And so I wonder as we look to tomorrow`s hearings how that all fits in, the other thing we try to avoid around here is predictions because we don`t know what`s going to happen.
It`s interesting look at the "New York Times" about something that people might not have predicted as six months ago, which is the level high - senior officials infighting. I mentioned the Mulvaney - what I call the "full Mulvaney," which is what he does something that contradicts himself and then tells you it didn`t happen.
We have a version of that here in the post reporting here. Mulvaney`s office blames the White House Counsel now for not doing more to stop other government officials from participating in the impeachment inquiry, meaning, trying to get government lawyers to prevent people from talking to Congress.
That lawyer has fumed, Mulvaney only made matters worth with his, yes, infamous October 17th news conference when he publicly acknowledged quid pro quo bribery. Heather take your pick on analyzing any of that.
MCGHEE: I think that Mulvaney has been one of those figures that will be studied in case studies - in personnel case studies. He has been behind - he has held 87 roles in the administration now, I think? He has held so many roles in the administration and left awake a wave of corruption in his wake at every single one of them; whether it`s the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the budget, this is the last straw.
The fact that he has been really at the center - Mulvaney on the official side, Giuliani on the personal side of this web of corruption around Ukraine, and that he wasn`t even duplicitous enough to lie about it on national television. In some ways, I almost feel bad--
MELBER: Well in fairness, Heather--
MELBER: After he told the truth he lied about his truthful confession.
MCGHEE: That`s right. That`s right. In fairness, he did cover both bases. I really like the "full Mulvaney." I`m going to see if I could use that.
I almost feel badly for him, because he is like one of the many Republicans who right now is really trapped and trying to figure out as more and more details are unfolding exactly what the Republican line is going to be.
First it was no quid pro quo. Then it was a quid pro quo is not a problem. Now it`s trying to chase around a process. And then it`s going to be bribery once the Democrats get to making that the central argument, saying that bribery is not actually a crime somehow.
It`s difficult. The facts are pretty plain and simple. Somehow the Trump administration has continued to have these own goals, releasing the transcripts, as if they were exonerating somehow. I think it`s great that we`ve had so many members of our public service - hello, come out and actually follow the law and follow their subpoenas--
MELBER: Right and go in and--
MCGHEE: --and come and testify.
MELBER: --and give their account. And those accounts have built the evidence of bribery. Schiff saying tonight it`s all about abusing the quote official powers. The Founders, obviously, we`re worried about bribery. And as I think you both know bribery is an archaic word as well for the swamp.
This is the swamp they were supposed to clean up. You can`t go to Washington and sell your office, that`s literally the first thing you`re forbidden to do. I got to fit in a break, because we have so much going on.
Heather McGhee, thank you so much for joining us. It`s always a treat to see you Nick Akerman, stick around we may have more breaking news for you.
Coming up, I have tonight, a special report to set up some of the issues in tomorrow`s impeachment hearings, including new reporting on the roots of Giuliani`s conspiracy theory.
Later, we have a full-blown special preview for you we`ve been cooking up, so you have everything you need to know for what I bet you`ll be watching - at least part of tomorrow, the first hearings that we haven`t seen in a generation.
And finally a revelation on the last day of testimony in the Roger Stone case with new questions about whether Donald Trump lied to Mueller. All that an exclusive guest who had a front row seat in the last impeachment, that`s also tonight. I`m telling you, it`s a big show. I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Tonight Donald Trump`s officially closer to impeachment than ever on the eve of these first public hearings, which will probe into the scandal that has paralyzed his presidency for now.
And we turn to our special report beginning with a question, how did we get here? The answer begins with a country that was rarely in the news when the first reports with a whistleblower emerged in the "Washington Post". Long before we ever saw that complaint, we were all waiting and wondering and trying to figure out what does this all have to do with Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: By far, the biggest news of the day which is this whistleblower story, which is now going officially nuts. Shane Harris from the "Washington Post" tonight is reporting about the whistleblower complaint has something to do with Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Something to do with Ukraine. But what would be scandalous about Ukraine policy? Most people had not heard enough about Trump`s policies towards that country to even guess at the time. And if you were learning about this story from "The Washington Post," "The Times" or most national news in September when Rachel was reporting that out, it was all new.
But if you happen to read conservative articles in the opinion section of "The Hill" back in March you`d see the seeds of this Trumpian conspiracy theory. Here`s a headline quoting a foreign officials unsupported allegation that the Obama administration demanded Ukraine simply avoid prosecuting certain people, a pretty silly article.
Here`s another from April, in the same basic format. A single Ukrainian source claiming the U.S. didn`t want evidence on Democrats. Now, you can see where this is going. Again, this was back in April before any of this blew up.
But around that same time, here is the cherry on top of this conspiracy theory, Sunday, "Joe Biden`s 2020 Ukrainian nightmare a closed probe is revived." The second part of that clause and this was back in April is just not a thing yet. Close prose - close probe revived hadn`t happened.
Now America at that time in April was waiting for the release of the Mueller report, it was three weeks away. There`s a lot of other news. But this writer for "The Hill" was speculating about this Biden nightmare that virtually no one was losing sleep over.
This is important to what`s going to happen tomorrow, because at that time there`d be no way to distinguish from a thousand other headlines or websites and outlets of varying credibility.
But those three articles I mentioned they all have something crucial and common. They`re all by John Solomon, a conservative writer who used to be at the right-wing "Washington Times" and also is an analyst at Fox News and has links to top conservative operatives.
The Columbia Journalism Review is referred to him as being basically a history of bending the truth and distorting facts. You should know that up front. If you haven`t heard much about Solomon, well, you may be about to hear a lot more about him in the impeachment hearings.
Mr. Solomon and President Trump also have the same taste in lawyers. Solomon hired Joe diGenova, a lawyer that Trump tried to hire. And like some other politically aggressive lawyers that Donald Trump favors these days, diGenova does more than litigate.
He pushes political agendas. He goes on Fox News and that`s where he dramatically previewed his disturbing material that would come from his now client Solomon. This was back in March.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE DIGENOVA. FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: There`s some very disturbing details about it that are about to come out in reporting by John Solomon. And I think once those details come out, I think there`s going to have to be a full-fledged criminal investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Wow, full-fledged. Sounds like he has the inside scoop on what his own client is writing. And that Fox News segment was touting the piece I just mentioned, that oh so understated headline, which reads kind of like Infowars fan fiction - the one about the Ukrainian nightmare and the reviving of a probe.
So step one, have your lawyer hype the piece on handy, like there`s some independent interest in it. Step two, well obviously go on Hannity yourself. Here was John Solomon citing his mysterious Ukrainian sources for this then obscure story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Now the story behind the story. Full report, Investigative Reporter, The Hill`s John Solomon is with us.
JOHN SOLOMON, THE HILL EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: There`s a pattern here of a Hunter Biden being in the countries where the Vice President has a foreign policy portfolio and somehow walking off with some nice paydays. They`re telling me tonight Sean that they`ve been trying to get this information to the U.S. Justice Department for more than six months--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Well, if there was a U.S. government conspiracy by that Justice Department or State Department that would sound bad right, but of course that last six months that would implicate the Trump administration. diGenova and Hannity support Trump, obviously.
The other thing here is that the top people involved all say what you just heard from Solomon is false. In fact, Solomon`s angle has been backfiring in two ways. One as a political propaganda, mission to help Trump. This has, of course, now brought Trump closer to impeachment than ever.
Two, as a conspiracy theory, this Ukraine allegation got really big - too big and it blew up in Solomon`s face, sparking an investigation that has now publicly shredded his claims. The original whistleblower complaint says in March 2019 over these series of articles in "The Hill" quoting several Ukrainian officials and those allegations citing Solomon`s work, and that`s part of what got Trump in so much hot water.
Then there`s the Trump officials and diplomats who fact-check Solomon. And again I want to be clear, we only know about this because it backfired, because of the probe. But now I can tell you, three different officials who served in the Trump administration say when it came to Solomon`s Ukraine writing all the key elements were false. That`s former Army officer Vindman.
Another saying Solomon pedals baseless conspiracy theories. Another, Diplomat George Kent, who will hear from publicly tomorrow, was blasting Solomon`s fabrications as utter nonsense.
Now that`s not just a big rebuttal. That`s testimony from people speaking under oath, under the threat of perjury. Legally that, obviously, carries more weight and potentially more legal peril and what you say in a Sean Hannity segment.
So that`s a lot. Where are we going? Well I began this report with the question. How do we get here? To paraphrase the "Talking Heads" David Byrne, you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? That`s what we all want to know.
We got to this other part of the world because of this plot. A plot that began with this serious information propaganda and then was super-sized and weaponized - this is important, by the current President, by his top advisors and was allegedly deployed through the arm and the power of the U.S. government. That`s a big deal. Democrats say it`s an impeachable big deal.
So way back in March, look who Donald Trump was retweeting, yes, the Solomon theory citing Fox News, while Giuliani literally traveled around the world trying to will Solomon`s theory into reality. Giuliani may not really expect Ukraine to ever what indict the Vice President or his family - the former vice President.
But weaponizing propaganda isn`t about facts, it`s about impact. Try to get the talk of the investigation going. Maybe spark an actual investigation. Ukraine was very close to doing that when the money was finally unfrozen. Then Giuliani tries to add more smoke and innuendo and damage to the Bidens, which did of course draw them out on defense.
You have to see how this works to inoculate against the misinformation. We all know the expression "shoot first, ask questions later." I`m showing you how the Salomon-Giuliani plot works. Smear first, ask questions later, then gin up a process to legitimize that original smear, whether it`s DOJ, investigating investigators or trying to get this foreign country to review the case.
The idea is that later action - this is why it`s tricky. The later action tries to trick you into thinking that the original Outlanders theory has now become more substantiate by external events - by the smoke. So that is why I`m out to show you something really interesting given tomorrow`s hearing.
It`s vital to Trump and Giuliani that Salomon be ultimately taken seriously, which is why you have Giuliani`s ridiculous calls for Solomon to win journalism awards - call it Pulitzer Thirst-Trapping.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: The Ukrainians brought me substantial evidence of Ukrainian collusion with Hillary Clinton, the DNC, George Soros, John Solomon - who should get a Pulitzer Prize by the way, put them all on tape--
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So many great people, John Solomon should get the Pulitzer Prize--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s what the Trump fans are hearing in that stadium. If you hadn`t heard that before, you see how that matters to this impeachment probe. John Solomon should get the Pulitzer Prize.
That`s when teed up, Fox viewers, to MAGA fans, even as the staff inside Trump`s own administration was reaching out, ringing alarm bells. Look at this, they directly contacted Hannity`s show to emphasize the Ukraine allegations were false. George Kent confirming they suggested Hannity stop covering them. But Hannity kept putting Solomon on air for his breathless dispatches.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOLOMON: Ukrainian law enforcement officials saying yes we did try to tip the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden did to thwart an investigation of his son`s company in Ukraine.
The Clinton campaign the DNC did to solicit Ukraine`s--
You`re going to hear from the Ukrainian embassy--
I have in my possession documents from the Ukraine general prosecutor`s office. What they wanted to interview was Hunter Biden specifically about $3 million--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Solomon promised lots of scoops and dirt and sources. And he has a First Amendment right to stay and write and speculate on what he wants. But as this thing has blown up, in the faces of these Trump allies, Americans and impeachment investigators are now seeing Solomon`s work and some of his source is exposed.
One source and collaborator indicted Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas, who did vetting and translation for Solomon on these very stories. Diplomats warning Parnas was trying to subvert our democracy. Parnas is now cooperating with impeachment investigators.
And this website that publishes the opinion pieces, "The Hill" has caught heat for publishing so many pieces of opinion by Solomon. Just like it also caught heat for publishing an opinion piece by convicted felon, Michael Flynn, which was later a key piece of evidence in the Mueller probe for undisclosed foreign lobbying.
I should mention "The Hill" has updated that piece on their website given that controversy. The Solomon articles stand the way they are. We asked them for comment, by the way. They declined to comment on the record. They did tell us that Solomon no longer works for "The Hill."
A website, though, reportedly close to giving Giuliani a podcast deal - ProPublica reporting that today. And that all those Hannity appearances, Solomon has now been formally hired by Fox News as a contributor, which is Hannity, because after the Trump-Ukraine scandal was exposed, Solomon abruptly left his perch at "The Hill."
The national security site just - security noting that and adding that Fox News provides a place where Solomon can deploy a "misleading image of an investigative reporter, while maintaining radio silence about the details of his own convoluted role in all of this."
Interestingly that article, scrutinizing Solomon`s role, which we relied on partly for our reporting tonight, that was written by Sidney Blumenthal, the author, the former "Washington Post" and "New Yorker" journalist who knows his way around impeachment probes. He was a former witness in the Starr probe, he was a senior adviser to President Clinton at the White House.
Mr. Blumenthal is here on THE BEAT for the first time. I have a lot of questions for him when we`re back live in 30 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Welcome back in joining us exclusively tonight, Sidney Blumenthal. Thanks for coming on the show, sir.
SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you, Ari, glad to be here.
MELBER: I read what you wrote. What is the importance in your view of both Mr. Solomon`s writings and the way they seem to have hijacked part of U.S. foreign policy?
BLUMENTHAL: John Solomon`s work which laid out the beginnings of what has now become an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump was not journalism. It was an essential part of a dissent in this information operation. It was false information put, out as propaganda to create a certain political outcome and that`s why it was put out.
There`s a good deal we don`t know about it. We have not gotten to the bottom of the sources of it. We have not gotten to the bottom of the money behind it. We certainly see that John Solomon is in the middle of this Giuliani gang and he has many connections to it.
Lev Parnas, Giuliani`s associate was hired by Solomon as a quote "translator." Parnas also was hired by Solomon`s lawyers Joe diGenova and Vicky Toensing, as a "translator," working for another client of theirs.
Who was, we now know one of the sources of his material, Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch, closely tied to Vladimir Putin and to the Russian mafia who was under indictment for corruption in the United States and is fighting extradition.
MELBER: So Sidney, any one of those things sounds bad. You just named like five bad things. You`re reporting lays it out. What are people to take away from all of this suspicious smoke and the message coordination that you wrote about that we just showed where Fox and Trump and everyone wants to build this person up as if they`re an award-winning journalist?
When what you`re arguing is they`re associated with indicted individuals and foreign money, to some degree. And "The Hill" has previously gotten caught publishing material that was secretly funded to the degree that Mueller was investigating it as breaking foreign lobbying laws. Where does it all land from here?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, this is a kind of Matryoshka doll and we need to get to unpack each of the dolls. And John Solomon, when we look at his work, we see Giuliani, with whom he had a business deal, was trying to develop one. And with whom he is working hand in glove.
And Giuliani sent his bogus articles to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in order to fire U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. And that was a very deliberate disinformation operation on Solomon`s part.
MELBER: So let me ask you this, because it`s so many details there are. But do you think they`re fundamentally good at this, because they got this far or fundamentally bad at it, because it blew up and became basically the road to Trump`s impeachment?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, they got tripped up by the by the professionals on the inside who understood that this was a violation of U.S. national security and they went to one of their own, who is the whistleblower, who wrote it up and it`s only because of that that we know about this. Otherwise this may well have been successful.
TRUMP himself is trying to replicate what he did with Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the e-mails--
MELBER: Right. Well, that`s such an important point I want to slow down on. They learned with the e-mails it was not about Hillary Clinton actually getting indicted. Right? It wasn`t about that.
It was about having enough smoke endlessly that even reasonable people, not the core Hannity audience, but other people, and you know a lot about this from the history of American politics. Would say, well, I just hear so many bad things. It sounds like something - there`s something there.
BLUMENTHAL: Trump had identified Joe Biden as his a likely opponent as the Democratic frontrunner and his most formidable adversary - the former Vice President and he wanted to develop something that was the functional equivalent of how the e-mails work against Hillary Clinton at 2006.
MELBER: So that`s interesting, Sidney, because not a lot of people compare this directly to e-mails. I mean, might be obvious to you, because you write about it and you`re a bright guy. But that`s not what we`ve heard. This is that Biden is e-mails 2.0.
BLUMENTHAL: This is - think about it as a political tactic, as a strategy and Trump felt that it worked before right. And he`s taken some of the material that was developed in the first case, in the Hillary Clinton case, and then worked at it and John Solomon has been involved in that.
MELBER: Yes. Sidney before I let you go, I got to play old-school Blumenthal for viewers who remember the impeachment case. Here you were as a witness among, other things. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the President then give you his account of what happened between him and Monica Lewinsky?
BLUMENTHAL: As I recall he did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the President tell you?
BLUMENTHAL: He - he spoke fairly rapidly as I recall at that point and said that. She had come on to him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you describe for us the President`s demeanor when he shared this information with you?
BLUMENTHAL: Yes, he was very upset. I thought he was a man in anguish--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Big picture, as someone who has been through a White House when there`s been a criminal probe and impeachment, different factual allegations. But what do you see in today`s battles at the White House, when we see Mulvaney and the lawyers fighting? When we see the pressure, when we see Bolton looking to testify? What jumps out to you just big picture given the unique experience you have.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, one point that I would make is that I was a senior advisor to President Clinton. I was - my title was assistant to the President, and I fully cooperated and testified truthfully before the impeachment trial.
And I cooperated as well with the Independent Counsel and so did many other people in the White House, including the Chief of Staff, John Podesta. And today I see that members of the White House staff and the administration are not cooperating and I urge them to cooperate and to testify truthfully- -
MELBER: What message do you think it sends on an issue of this national security implore when they won`t go tell their story to Congress?
BLUMENTHAL: It`s an obvious message that they have something to hide and there`s more that there is to learn about this that they know, that they are shielding from the public and they ought to testify.
MELBER: Sidney Blumenthal, for the reasons mentioned, quite a unique guest with a lot of expertise. I appreciate coming on "THE BEAT." I hope you`ll come back, sir.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank You, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you. Your latest book, I should mention to viewers who are interested is, "All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln," another President you know something about. Thanks to you.
Up ahead did Donald Trump lie to Mueller? Did Donald Trump`s Justice Department just proved that in open court? Well, new testimony out of the Roger Stone case, we`ll get into it. And first a breaking story tonight. Up next, we return to Chairman Schiff laying out the new public argument for how they want to impeach Donald Trump. It`s bribery.
MELBER: We`re back with Nick Akerman, Watergate Prosecutor, hours away from the first televised impeachment hearings of President Trump with obvious echoes to the Watergate process. the Intelligence COMMITTEE chairman Adam Schiff making waves tonight for anyone who cares about this, rattling the White House, previewing what`s going to happen on the strategy for tomorrow`s hearing with a new focus on bribery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: first of all as the Founders understood bribery, it was not as we understand it in law today. It was much broader. It connoted the breach of the public trust in a way where you`re offering official acts for some personal or political reason, not in the nation`s interest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Nick Akerman joins me now. This is striking, because it previews the hearing tomorrow.
MELBER: What does it mean, in your view, as a prosecutor and someone who`s led this kind of fact-finding in the unusual context of a White House and a President that Schiff is basically telling everyone, well, this is one theory of the case before the questions begin tomorrow?
AKERMAN: Because I think what he wants to do is put this in context, so when the public hears this testimony they`ll understand where each piece of evidence fits into the entire picture.
I think what you`re going to see is this evidence is going to go back. It`s not going to just start with that phone call in July where Donald Trump spoke to Zelensky, but what they`re going to do is they`re going to put in proof that goes back prior to Zelensky being voted in there`s a new President.
They`re going to put in the efforts they made with the former President to try and get him to open an investigation into the Biden`s and into this crazy theory about the Ukraine being the focus of the attack on the Democratic National Committee.
So what they`re going to do is, they`re going to take this way back and put the whole story together. But you can`t put it together with just one person. It a number of witnesses to put together this entire story, including the documents that corroborate people.
I mean, Taylor`s going to come in with all kinds of notes and books that he`s going to be able to use.
AKERMAN: But he only came into the picture at a short time.
MELBER: And I don`t want to oversimplify. But when we think about the hearings, including what people witnessed in the Mueller hearings, which include Bob Mueller`s testimony, ultimately Corey Lewandowski and other experts. There was a lot more talk about process obstruction then there was about the underlying issue, which was alleged potential collusion and election conspiracy.
I`m not minimizing and nor would you the obstruction. But do you see what Chairman Schiff is doing tonight as previewing something that whether or not obstruction is ultimately an article of impeachment. It won`t be the first and it won`t be the most important.
AKERMAN: No not at all. The most important piece here is going to be that this President engaged in a systematic pattern of bribery that started long before President Zelensky was elected and that continued right up until the time he was forced to give up that money to the to Ukraine in order that they could use it to buy the weapons that they need.
MELBER: We`re almost out of time. Based on the public evidence where do we stand compared to the public evidence against Nixon when those hearings began?
AKERMAN: Oh, it`s completely different. I mean, this is actually a dynamite case. They have got excellent evidence. They`ve got great witnesses. They`ve got credible witnesses, smart witnesses and lots of corroboration.
MELBER: You have time for a quick light-hearted absurd question?
MELBER: Did President Nixon, Chief of Staff ever confess at a national press conference and then take it back?
AKERMAN: No, but this was Donald Trump making his Chief of Staff to do that.
MELBER: Right. And legally there are no backsies right?
AKERMAN: There`s no - you can`t take it back - you can`t take it back.
MELBER: There is no backsies.
AKERMAN: No, when you say I robbed the bank and then you`re brought into trial--
MELBER: No, backsies.
AKERMAN: It was a joke, I didn`t really mean it. That doesn`t count.
MELBER: Yes, and Nick Akerman we appreciate your clarity and your experience. We`ve had a lot of experienced people on the night, and now we`re better for it. Thank you.
AKERMAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Appreciate you. Up ahead guilty Trump aide, Rick Gates taking the stand, as you hear about this, against Trump advisor Roger Stone. Also the Republicans have their own bribery defense. We`re going to show you what you need to know. We got a lot more coming up.
MELBER: We`re back with even more news. We`re only getting two right now. I mentioned the Republicans releasing a new 18 page document. The most basically sweeping set of defenses of Trump we`ve ever seen. Let`s go through it quickly with some fact checks.
One, they say in this new defense that Republicans argued that July 25th call summary is basically the best evidence of the entire conversation that happened with Ukraine and they argue it doesn`t show the kind of pressure you`d need for extortion or bribery.
And then let me show you number two, I think we have this. Republicans arguing both sides have said there was no pressure on the call, although other evidence has pointed another direction. Remember, Trump donor and Ambassador Sondland had to revise his testimony ultimately to explain his thought there was pressure.
Point three in this new memo, Ukrainian government, the Republicans say, was not aware that the U.S. money was ever frozen. That`s an interesting defense. And we might hear a lot more about that, including tomorrow. The idea that whatever went down, ultimately the money was released.
And then number four, "the U.S. money, as mentioned, flowed to Ukraine in September 2019" and Republicans say, "Ukraine never formally investigated the Bidens." Again, part of the new factual defense, which you`ll note is different from some of the more sweeping defenses we`ve heard from the White House.
Let`s get into it right now with former Reagan speechwriter and commentary writer John Podhoretz. How you doing?
JOHN PODHORETZ, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE EDITOR: I`m good.
MELBER: This is a more specific and more factual defense from the House Republicans than what we`ve heard from Donald Trump`s team himself.
PODHORETZ: That`s right. So they are trying to figure out how to lay out before things go what they`re supposed to say, which is that the call wasn`t bad, the aid wasn`t - the aid was suspended but nobody knew the aid was suspended. Nothing happened, no harm no foul. This is all ridiculous. Right? That`s that line. If you go on in think documents--
MELBER: Which is different than my call was perfect fall back.
PODHORETZ: Well, I mean, it echo my call was perfect since it says that the July 25th call was ultimately anodyne. Right? They were kidding, the tone was friendly. Trump said, look, I wanted - do me a favor and he wasn`t even talking about Biden. He was talking about 2016 election interference, which is which is the continues line.
What I`m what I`m struck by here is the way in which this entire document - this 18 page document says, "And you know what everything is good. Trump has a long history of concern about corruption in Ukraine."
MELBER: We have that.
MELBER: We`ll fix you. We have that. "The body of evidence" Republicans argue today shows Trump holds a "deep-seated genuine and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption." Now, I try to take the argument seriously. That one`s very weak.
PODHORETZ: No, I mean. Yes, so what the this whole thing is I think is laying out a series of serious point efforts to sort of address the points beforehand. I suspect - I know you don`t like predictions, but I`m going to make a prediction. It may not be tomorrow, but it`ll be sometime during this process - public process, that there will be a stunt. That Republicans are in a pull a stunt.
They want to deal delegitimize these hearings. They do not want to act as though the hearings are legitimate, fair, reasonable or purposeful. And one of the ways they may do that is to take a page out of - of all people Abbie Hoffman, The Chicago Seven trial, and do something to make a mockery of the proceedings.
We saw a little hint of that when Corey Lewandowski testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
MELBER: I`ve never heard Jim Jordan suggested as Chicago Seven that Hoffmanisc (ph) figure.
PODHORETZ: There you go. But when what you want to do is make up - is literally make a choice to make a mockery of the proceedings it`s a risky - it would be a risky maneuver with nationally televised hearings, all the networks shut off by showing it. But they want to - they want to make it clear that they think that this proceeding is illegitimate.
And the best way to do that isn`t to let it - isn`t to be--
MELBER: Well that`s--
PODHORETZ: --is to behave quietly.
MELBER: And that`s why we`re covering this. This 18 page memo, as I`ve told viewers, is a more serious reckoning as you say that might be a prelude to something very unserious or arguing it`s a kangaroo court.
John as always thanks for being here. We got one more thing when we come back.
MELBER: Testimony in the Roger stone trial is coming out today, and it has new information that`s casting doubts on Donald Trump`s own sworn statements to Bob Mueller. Rick Gates, the former campaign official who pled guilty, testifying Stone told the campaign about WikiLeaks information coming on Hillary Clinton months before the hack material became public.
Gates also detailing how Trump himself was allegedly on a call with Stone about WikiLeaks. Remember, Trump told Mueller in written answers he didn`t recall anything like that, raising the questions of whether that was at the time a deliberate lie.
Another thing we wanted to tell you about, we`ll have more on that later this week. I`ll be back at 6 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. And tonight if you`re around, I`ll be filling in for Lawrence O`Donnell at 10:00 p.m. Eastern with a lot of news tonight.
Don`t go anywhere, "HARDBALL" is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END