Special Report: Senate Trial Preview. TRANSCRIPT: 12/19/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Juanita Tolliver, Tim Ryan, Byron Dorgan, ChrisVan Hollen

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: We`ll leave it here, because you`re going to hear in literally about 15 second, Mitch McConnell is giving an update on where he thinks things stand on the negotiation of what a trial looks like. I`m going to leave it to my man, Ari, to tell you about it here in a second. Matthew, Howard, Kimberly, thank you. That`s it for Meet the Press Daily.

As I said, Ari Melber you`ve got the breaking news baton. Take it brother.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, sir. We`ve got the breaking news and we`re going to get into all of it. Good to see you, Chuck. As we come on the air, the House and Senate are jousting over what to do about last night. Speaker Pelosi clearly trying to rattle the White House with a new curveball after impeaching President Trump. But tonight, we have reporting from an insider who can speak directly to those closed-door meetings to Pelosi`s strategy as she formally threatens to actually withhold these impeachment articles from the Senate until a fair trial is assured. As Chuck mentioned, Leader McConnell talking about that as we come on the air.

Tonight, we also have a special report on what it would look like to put Donald Trump on trial. This is a breakdown, I can tell you, you`ll see nowhere else but here. But we begin of course with this top story. President Trump woke up today with a mark he will carry for the rest of his life, the first president ever to be impeached in his first term and he`s facing a volcanic aftermath from what played out here in front of the whole nation. An undeniably huge development in a year full of, we admit it, hyperbolically touted developments in the news cycle. But this has come here after nearly 12 hours of those floor debates, dramatic at times on the impeachment of a President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We used to care about democracy. We used to care about our allies. We used to stand up to Putin and Russia. We used to - you may one day be in the majority and you will want to hold a president accountable. And what will you say when that President says you are a paper tiger. You have no oversight. I can ignore your subpoenas. What will you say?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Congressman Schiff`s closing there. He has been the Democrats de facto leader on impeachment. And in this large round one, he won. The Congress passing articles of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This is a moment that is worth reflecting on even if you saw it in real time. Let me show you in brief how it looks when the Congress impeaches the President, witness the results gaveled in by the Speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The yays are 230, the nays are 197. Present is one. Article one is adopted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Interesting to see that momentary glare from Pelosi. She was instantly tamping down any attempt to cheering that might have been heard within the Congress or on the Democratic side, it`s part of her effort to be clear to the nation and at moments like this, we do know more people tend to perk up and pay attention. People who don`t follow this day in and day out and so she was saying in this close up highlight moment that we`ve shown you here on the screen, this is somber. This is solemn. This is not in her view partisan.

Impeachment dominating the front pages across the nation today from Houston to Atlanta from New York to San Francisco. Plus of course, the national outlets. Trump impeached simply put on the covers of The New York Times, The Washington Post impeached on the USA Today.

So, will you remember where you were when you heard this news. Will you remember who you were with? Did they say great. Finally, some accountability for this President? Did they oppose this and say, there they go again in Washington? Or were you with people who maybe didn`t care at all? This is one of those times that you`ll reflect on I would argue throughout your life. This is a thing that has huge long-term consequences and I could tell you we`ve been watching as reaction poured in as we showed you from the newspapers, around the nation, from citizens online. And then of course across the President`s favorite medium.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You are not asleep. This is not a dream. This is really happening. This is your life. This is our country and our time. It is Wednesday the 18th of December and the year 2019 and President Donald Trump is impeached.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Third time in American history, a very big deal for this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He deserved it, because no President has ever done what he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After this sham impeachment, you see him in a better spot than he was when they started this whole thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pivotal moment in our nation`s history and it played out overnight on Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Pivotal. You know impeachment is pivotal partly because this is a power that can`t be waved away. It can`t be denied. It can`t be fake newsified. Under our Constitution, it forces the United States Senate to react. Today, Democrats trying a new tack for wielding this unusual this, historically rare power. Pelosi arguing that the Democrats might withhold the impeachment articles from the Senate until Mitch McConnell provides a guarantee of a fair trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Our founders when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don`t think they suspected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A rogue Senate Leader. Pelosi arguing there there`s a kind of collusion to prevent the fair trial and she`ll hold back the articles. Now, I`ll tell you something substantively this may not work all that well because the fact is Mitch McConnell might be more comfortable with a delay than the Democrats who do have campaigns starting in February for 2020.

But that doesn`t mean that Speaker Pelosi isn`t thinking on multiple levels. Perhaps she understands that substance is only one part of things these days in Donald Trump`s Washington, because there are signs that this PR president that she`s outmaneuvered on other issues may be moved here by the optics. Donald Trump reportedly wants this trial right away. He is anxious to be publicly vindicated by his friends in the Senate. Now, McConnell is spinning a different point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (D-KY): Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid, too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate, and it looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Is this about cold feet? Well, as a political matter that`s not a very good attack, the President himself and most of his allies have argued that Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats were too aggressive, too tough on him, too unfair. So, to turn around today and say they have cold feet isn`t a consistent message.

The larger question that we`re going to unpack for you with our experts tonight and later in the special breakdown is what happens when you`re in this territory, where there is constitutional leverage. With Senator McConnell himself has publicly said he has to at least start the trial, how he runs it is up for debate, but he has to start it and now he`s locked in this inner branch conflict in an area where we don`t have a lot of precedents, because much to Donald Trump`s chagrin, very few presidents have ever gotten to the point where they are put on trial before the nation.

Joining us now for our special coverage, Juanita Tolliver from the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post Columnist, you may have seen there in some of our highlights, Eugene Robinson. Good evening to both of you.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: Hey, Ari.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": Hey, Ari.

MELBER: Gene, we rely on you at times like this. We saw you last night. I`m thrilled to have you back. It would be easy to have this fly by and feel like another clash, another fight and yet it is something bigger.

ROBINSON: Yes. A third time in the U.S. history. I`m sorry if I repeat myself, but there aren`t a lot of news events that you can describe in those terms. This is the ultimate sanction that the Congress that the House of Representatives has given the sole power to apply to a President. And it has only happened three times. I spent some time today from my column just looking back at those prior impeachments. Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, both of those in their day were seen - were controversial, seen as partisan.

Yet neither has been erased. Neither will ever be erased. So, this is the definition of history when school children learn about the Constitution 100 years from now and learn how it works and the checks and balances and the three branches of government. They`ll learn about the Donald Trump impeachment however it comes out.

MELBER: I wonder about that because you know we think about how we evolve as a country what we decide we want to put on a pedestal, what merits a statue a holiday, we`ve had debates in this country about what statue should come down. There were a lot of people that oppose making a Martin Luther King holiday, precisely because they feared. I think one of the positive developments in American life that we do try to raise boys and girls now to look at Martin Luther King, not as a mixed story, not as a mixed bag, but an unmitigated complete American hero.

So, it is with the negative. Johnson and Clinton who both did get through their impeachment is alive, history focuses on their mistakes regardless. Clinton impeached over mistakes. The question was it was abuse of power was litigated. Johnson narrowly beat it, but boy, history has not been kind because it refocuses the fact that while he wasn`t uniquely racist, we had a lot of racist, he was credibly accused of abusing his power in pursuit of the Confederacy and racism. Speak to us about what it means to have a marker of these presidential mistakes.

ROBINSON: No, I think it means a lot because of the reason you just laid out so well. It focuses attention on what they did wrong, what they did to merit this ultimate sanction. Now Andrew Johnson you know impeachment or not. I would argue would still be on the bottom of the list of presidents or near the bottom of the list of presidents, because - now you know there are people who supported what he was doing at the time. But he was essentially trying to reverse the civil war and he was a terrible racist. So was James Buchanan. So was Woodrow Wilson for that matter was a racist.

Which does raise another point, history reassess a president, it reassesses everybody. We put up monuments to the people. We admire and monuments should be erected of the people we admire now. And so, we look back and we look back at someone like Martin Luther King and you say, he was a great man. Well, there was a lot of controversy about him. Not everyone was much less agreement about him in real time.

You know, Bill Clinton, I could make an argument with Bill Clinton aside from that messy impeachment thing was a really good president. Other people might disagree, but you all - we always have to look at the impeachment, look at what caused it that makes us look at his character flaws and it keeps us from giving him that sort of unreserved embrace that we give to some things.

MELBER: And part of what we`re both talking around and I want to bring in Juanita on this, is legitimacy. Juanita, we`re talking about power. We`re talking about legitimacy. There is a difference throughout historic tradition to people who assume this office, who many of whom as Jean was reminding us are imperfect in all these ways. And yet Donald Trump who assumed the office the way he did, the way he campaigned, the bigotry he appealed to didn`t get more votes, got fewer votes in the way he`s governed.

And then did something that I`d like you to reflect on with us. Sometimes people confess and cooperate. Other times people deny and defy. Donald Trump in his brazen mix of idiocy confessed and then still defy and appeared to obstruct at least allegedly obstruct. Walk us through what that is for America now that he stands with this new mark on him?

TOLLIVER: He stands with this new mark in a way that I think eats himself alive more than anything else. This is hurting his ego as we saw in his ridiculous letter to Pelosi a few days ago. This is something that he is struggling with and has struggled with through his entire presidency. Let`s think back. Crowd sizes at the inauguration, pointless things that he`s lied about to make himself feel more legitimate and in reality, incapable of doing so. And I think Pelosi throughout this entire process and her entire time working with Trump on different things has been able to put her finger on that, has been able to call it the fact that he`s in over his head or he`s been on the record and told the truth, he is the smoking gun.

And so, what Trump is struggling with now is OK, I`ve been impeached, I`m going to reject that entire notion publicly every single day. At his rally last night, it`s insignificant. All day today in media, he`s talking about well, it doesn`t feel like I`ve been impeached. And so, he`s not taking any ownership for what seems like one of the first times in his life of being held accountable.

MELBER: Yes. I mean this is a lighter point, but I don`t know that if something happens to you for the first time, you can say, it doesn`t feel like impeached. You`d have to be impeached. During the last time, I was impeached.

TOLLIVER: It`s all brand new, right.

MELBER: It`s a new experience and a rare one as Gene said. Both of you stay with me as I tee up another special guest with context here with Speaker Pelosi digging into Trump today and inviting prayers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Let us pray. Let us pray for the President, just because he gets a laugh for saying cool things that he says doesn`t mean he`s funny. It`s not funny at all. It`s very sad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Very sad. Speaker Pelosi obviously trying to put this in a framework. I want to bring in someone who knows these issues well and actually on certain topics was a Pelosi critic, a Democrat who ran against her for Speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Congressman Ryan announced today that he is challenging Nancy Pelosi to be leader of the House Democrats.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: What is your pitch when they say to you but I`m fine with Nancy, I`m fine with the Pelosi leadership.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): I`m not hearing a whole lot of that. I mean I think people know after last Tuesday we`ve been doing something terribly wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tim Ryan, the chief Pelosi foe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think Nancy Pelosi is more toxic than Donald Trump?

RYAN: You know what, the honest answer is in some areas of the country, yes, she is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: In some areas. Interesting. Well, Congressman Tim Ryan joins me right now as part of our special coverage. Good evening, sir.

RYAN: Thanks, Ari. I appreciate that.

MELBER: Go on. What do you appreciate, your words? Nothing unfair about that, right.

RYAN: Yes. All true.

MELBER: And what I`m curious given everything that`s happening here in this monumental level is how do you think Speaker Pelosi is handling leading your party and dealing with President Trump in this impeachment today.

RYAN: Absolutely phenomenally. I think she has been so skillful over the last few weeks and months. She is at the absolute top of her game. I think her skillfulness level is that quite frankly of Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt in their prime to be able to navigate impeachment as she did. A lot of people were trying to push her into it. She literally waited till the exact right moment when certain things came out about Trump and President Trump and everything else and as some of our military members of Congress who have military experience and CIA experience and all of that started moving.

She picked the exact right time to do that. And then in the last week to watch this impeachment happen and her completely take away the idea that we were obsessed with impeachment because we passed the trade deal, we passed an appropriations bill. Both of those were bipartisan and we got significant gains in the appropriations process for huge investments into education, into research and the social emotional learning and helping our farmers into technologies.

I mean she ran the table on them and did it in a bipartisan way in the middle of impeachment. I mean I`ve never seen anything like it. And kudos to her because she`s done a phenomenal job.

MELBER: Do you think she`s been underestimated. And what do you think is the skill that we`re seeing. Is it leadership, big picture? Is it political knowledge of her caucus? What do you see?

RYAN: You know it`s like any finely tuned athlete or musician, your actor or actress. I mean you just see them at the top of their game. They`re functioning at all those levels. It`s the big picture level. And then it`s all the way through that down into the minutia of negotiating some of these deals. It`s really being able to see the whole floor in a sense to use a basketball analogy or see the whole field because you have to keep an eye on you know progressive people. But you also have to keep an eye on those 40 people who gave us the majority and she was able to do that.

MELBER: Very, very striking coming from you. I want to ask you about the other news given her tussle with Mitch McConnell, which Chuck Todd and I were talking about when I came on the air. As promised, when we tell people will bring them news, we will. The gist of what Mitch McConnell said on the floor, we`re not going to play the whole thing is, he says he`s not rattled by any notion of holding back the Articles of Impeachment.

Let me read this to you, I know it`s new to you because it just happened Congressman Ryan. He says, I`m not sure what leverage Pelosi has "in refraining" from sending us something we do not want. Your response.

RYAN: Well, I think part of this is continuing to educate the public about the obstruction from the White House, about the circling the wagons within the Republican Party regardless of the level of wrongdoing that the President committed. And so, to have another few weeks for everybody to really let sink in and have more and more news cycles saying look Mitch McConnell is going to run a kangaroo court over there. Look, Mitch McConnell is already in bed with the President. Look, they`re going to prevent witnesses. They`re going to prevent further testimony. They`re going to prevent further evidence.

I think the move here is to allow - you know Mitch McConnell at the end of the day is probably going to win this thing because he`s in the Senate and he controls the rules there. But to have another few weeks of really educating the public about how bad these things are going when we are going to go after a bunch of Senate races in North Carolina, in Iowa and in other key places, in Kansas where we`re going to be able to run really good races saying look like Barney Frank said, you don`t have to be in Kentucky to vote against Mitch McConnell and Mitch McConnell`s numbers are down across the country. And for him the further embrace this unfairness, this kangaroo court I think is only going to help Democrats moving down the line.

MELBER: Congressman Tim Ryan really interesting given where you`ve been and where you are. And we wanted to give you a chance to share that with everyone. Thank you so much. Go ahead quick.

RYAN: Ari, I call it like I see it. And you know we had issues and I`ve got a really good relationship with Leader Pelosi. But I will tell you, you know to watch her operate is something to be seen and you know I call it like I see it.

MELBER: There you go, and I think viewers may be interested in sort of an update to that story. Life is long. Congressman Tim Ryan, Gene Robinson, Juanita Tolliver, my thanks to each of our special guests for special coverage. And up next, I want to tell you what we`re going to do. Breakdown how it works when the Senate puts Donald Trump on trial.

Our team has been researching 200 years of President. We`ve dug deep into the archives. I would argue we have some amazing footage you haven`t seen yet. We`re going to analyze how it will hold Mitch McConnell and others accountable on these rules in this open fight. This special report could answer a lot of the questions that are about to face the country. That`s coming up next right here on The Beat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: What does this impeachment of President Trump actually do? What does it require? When Speaker Pelosi formally gaveled in these two House votes impeaching Trump, it triggers a constitutional requirement for the Senate begin a trial of the President and there`s no debate about that requirement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: Well, under the Senate rules we`re required to take it up if the House does go down that path and we`ll follow the Senate rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Trial of Donald Trump will define him in history and provide a framework for Americans to assess evidence of his conduct heading into this campaign. No other president has ever run for office after impeachment because no other president got themselves impeached this quickly. So, this matter and the battling has already begun over how to run the trial, Senate leaders jousting over these past examples.

But there are very few presidents, because there`s only been as you`ve heard by now two Presidential trials in all of history. So, right now we turn to one of the most momentous special reports we`ve done here. What do the rules require when the President is put on trial and how does it go down. Well, the answer differs from most government proceedings.

We`re about to walk you through some amazing examples and footage. The trial of a president basically has three layers. The first is the Constitution, which has ironclad rules for the trial and a high bar for kicking presidents out of office. Now that`s set-in stone. Totally unchangeable.

The second layer are the current Senate rules originally passed in 1986 that provide how the trial runs. When you hear senators say, what the rules require, they`re usually talking about these rules.

And then there is the third layer and that`s where the Senate just makes up new rules as it goes along which is different than every other trial in America and different than every other day in Congress. So, other than those requirements I mentioned in the Constitution, the Senate can actually change most of the trial rules with a bare majority of just 51 votes. You can think of this as the Jazz layer where senators can go full Miles Davis and improvise throughout the trial as long as they have 50 other senators willing to jam with them.

Now, more on that in a moment. But now we begin like America with the Constitution, which grants the power to charge, to impeach to the House. So, only the Congress, the House may impeach. In Bill Clinton`s case, top Republican impeachment manager Henry Hyde formally presented the articles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY HYDE, POLITICIAN: I hereby deliver these articles of impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s what it looks like. I hereby deliver. I mean the constitution says when the House does that the Senate shall try the case and it must replace the usual presiding officer. Currently, Vice President Mike Pence with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. So, we know what that looks like during the Clinton era, it was William Rehnquist who walked across the street from the relative obscurity of the Supreme Court into the Senate floor. He was originally nominated by another President forced out under the threat of impeachment, Richard Nixon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear that on all things pertaining to the trial of the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There he was signing in the senators. Trump`s trial will be presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative who`s known for sometimes breaking with Republicans on political matters. The Constitution lists the super majority requirement to convict a President and it limits the President`s power. So, Trump cannot pardon impeachment cases. He can`t pardon himself if he were convicted.

But that`s about it for that constitutional later. The rest of this turns on this Senate rules which tee up a public indignity for any impeached president just like any other defendant facing legal problems. An officer of the law brings the president a formal summons. So, while Trump saw this news like everyone else, we know from history a summons is still headed to his White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, as the Sergeant at Arms arrived at the White House with a summons formally notifying the impeached President that he is now on trial. Mr. Clinton`s lawyer said the White House is confident President Clinton will not be convicted.

MELBER: You saw for Clinton the summons came in by that SUV. For Andrew Johnson when he faced trial, the summons was actually hand delivered to the White House. These same Senate rules lay out how the Senate can deal with any problems. They can actually provide prison time enforced by the sergeant at arms for people who disrupt or talk during the trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the Senate of the United States is sitting for the trial of the articles of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives against William Jefferson Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Senators don`t get to talk either because this is a trial and the senators are sort of transformed into jurors. That explains it. You don`t see jurors stand up and give speeches at trial. So, like them if the senators have a question, they have to submit it reduced to writing and then the Chief Justice handles it. So, Americans will see a judge quoting the senators for any questions or points they want to raise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HYDE: The Senate has provided up to 16 hours during which senators may submit questions in writing. This question is from Senators Thompson and Snowe to the house managers from the Senator Schumer and Kerry of Nebraska.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: An impeachment trial is one of the most consequential things that Senate does, and the Senate does get a kind of makeover. For Clinton, there were carpenters in the Congress` cabinet shop that made new impeachment tables for the trial that could fit up to 15 lawyers sitting in the Senate.

Right now, Trump White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone expected to lead the legal team, but a 15 percent table could leave plenty of room for anyone else, including TV lawyers if they add any.

Now, as these lawyers and house managers battle it out, the rules give the first call to Chief Justice, but unlike a courtroom, the Senate jurors have the final call.

Now, sometimes the judge can lead, and his call will hold. Most of our footage tonight is from the one televised impeachment trial. But take an example from the 1868 trial of President Johnson, the Chief Justice ruled about Senators deliberating behind closed doors. 130 years later, we found Chief Justice Rehnquist cited that precedent for ruling on an open trial until senators closed the door to deliberate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HYDE: And Chief Justice chiefs in the Andrew Johnson trial stated in response to an inquiry, there can be no deliberation and most the doors are closed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Senators can follow those leads and there may be topics where they`d rather not weigh in at all. But the senators can also override any evidence call a Chief Justice makes with the bare majority. History shows on the big calls the rules give way to that other layer, I`m telling you about, the improvisational jamming with senators making up rules and plans as they go along.

And like Miles Davis, they are often miles ahead of the Chief Justice, which was on display at the Clinton trial when a younger version of Senators Biden and McConnell touted their initial bipartisan plan for how to start the trial knowing they could still jam out and change the rules later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We believe that unless we remain bipartisan, the public is not going to conclude we were fair.

MCCONNELL: Well, this is one of the great days in the history of the United States Senate. We came together, 100 to nothing behind a procedure to handle what will be remembered as the trial of the century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You`re not dreaming that is a real Mitch McConnell touting bipartisanship. And it was striking but I`m trying to make sure we all understand that was just at the start. Once both sides were presenting their cases, the brawling began. A Democratic elder Senator Robert Byrd moved to try to cut the trial short after the opening arguments by calling for a vote to dismiss the articles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Byrd one of the senior statesmen of the Senate caught everyone by surprise when he announced late this afternoon, he would move to have the trial dismissed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Continuing the Senate trial he said in a statement, "will only prolong" and deepen the divisive bitter and polarizing effect that this sorry affair has visited upon our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now that Clinton case had gone on far longer than the Ukraine probe, years of investigation by the independent prosecutor, all potential witnesses had testified under oath many several times. So, Democrats were arguing, it was time to end it while Republicans pressed to add witnesses to the Senate trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republican House managers told the Senate they have a witness list finally naming names. President Clinton`s friend Vernon Jordan. White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and Monica Lewinsky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Senate laid down the law today. House prosecutors can persuade the Senate to call witnesses but only a few and only if they can add to the case to convict the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And in contrast to what today`s Republicans are saying right now at the time those congressional Republicans backed adding those witnesses to the trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`d never call any witnesses in the house, why are you insisting on witnesses in the Senate?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Well, that`s an important distinction. The threshold in the House was whether or not there was enough evidence to submit it to the Senate for a trial. We were acting like a grand jury. We didn`t feel it was necessary to parade witnesses in. Now having impeached the President, it`s over in the Senate where the trial. This is a trial, not a grand jury proceeding. Not a probable cause hearing and we have a tremendous burden.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The idea of not being able to call witnesses is crucial. How would you like to do this show without guest? What if you sit here and read transcripts based on questions you ask? Your writings would go down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: How would you like to do without witnesses. That is Mr. Graham then a House manager now a senator. This is also where the rules matter because the Constitution requires a Senate trial, but not of any particular length. The Senate rules govern how witnesses can be used but not whether there are witnesses.

The Senate can make those decisions as the trial goes and the Clinton case, the Senate voted to both continue the trial and add those three witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were two critical votes today and the Republicans held all of their members in line. Votes to dismiss the trial and to subpoena witnesses. Here`s how the votes went. On the motion to dismiss, No, 56, Yes, 44. On the motion to subpoena witnesses the mirror image. Yes, 56, No, 44.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Republicans won that vote on evidence, they added a new witness interviews and they had Lewinsky, Jordan, Blumenthal. So, keep that in mind as the Senate preps this Trump trial, because 51 votes can change the rules any time. The trial can start without witnesses and add them later or start with a plan for witnesses and then vote not to hear them.

And Senator can get - senators can get votes on all of this. That`s what Senator Schumer is talking about when he says that no matter how this kicks off, they can get later votes on specific Trump witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: I will ask during the impeachment proceeding for a vote on whether Mulvaney should testify and whether Bolton should testify. Many Republican thinks that they can escape having to vote on this no matter how quickly Mitch McConnell tries to truncate the trial doesn`t know the rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Doesn`t know the rules and McConnell knows them. He was talking about them and how they apply to this very issue of witnesses back in 1999.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: Under the rules that we adopted the 1860`s to deal with impeachment trials. It would take 51 votes to call a witness unless two- thirds of the Senate agreed to do otherwise.

MELBER: Fact-check, true. If Republicans unite around say avoiding any witnesses and McConnell can hold that line, they can do that. But if at any time four senators in the Republican side say hey, wait, maybe we should hear from John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani, they can go do that in the middle of the trial.

Now back in 1999, check this out. It was Senator Susan Collins championing how more witnesses would serve this search for truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I need witnesses and further evidence to guide me to the right destination to get to the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Do witnesses get to the truth? Well, senators will have a chance to answer that on the record and while you may hear even tonight some observers covering this and talking about it as if these standoffs are going to be resolved in one moment or one day by Mitch McConnell or when the trial starts. What you now know from this rule`s breakdown is that`s not really the whole story.

When you grasp the rules, you grasp that most of them can change any time. McConnell could start the trial planning for no witnesses and then in the middle, a vote could add a witness or five or 10 again whatever the 51 senators decide to jam out on during the trial. And senators may still be making up their minds in real time. The whole country tends to watch and make up their minds on these things. A trial of a President is so much larger than any other story we ever come here and talk to you about. That`s a dynamic we also saw in the reaction to the last trial in 1999, a different era with different media and also some familiar faces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You`ve been extremely tough on the president for his personal indiscretions and yet this morning you have high praise for him, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I used to think I was crazy about Clinton having a split screen view of the guy, but yesterday`s polls show that eight out of 10 Americans think he`s been a highly successful president and eight out of 10 Americans don`t trust him. I guess that`s where I`m at.

O`DONNELL: Do you think they scored any points with these tapes today? Call us at 1-888 MSNBC USA and during our chat room and chat.msnbc.com.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Much has changed since then. Our politics, our platforms, our media, but the Constitution has not. It still provides that unshakable foundation to this process. The House charges, the Senate holds the trial out in the open so the public can see no person is above the law, especially not the person holding a temporary power to as the Constitution says take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Now, a senator who`s actually voted on these rules in an impeachment trial but knows his way around everything that`s about to happen joins me when we`re back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Back with a U.S. senator who has direct experience on exactly how these trials work. Byron Dorgan, he voted not guilty in Clinton`s trial. Thank you for joining me.

BYRON DORGAN, FORMER SENATOR: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: How will it work given that this is something the Senate decides as it goes.

DORGAN: Well, I don`t think anyone really knows how this will work. There`s much more rancid partisanship now than it was 20 years ago. I mean it wasn`t as if there wasn`t some partisanship then. But it`s much different now. It`s changed the institution of the United States Senate.

And by the way, I think there will be a Senate trial. But the speaker is sort of throwing a wrench into part of it because she is not sending over the impeachment documents at this point. And I wondered to myself what kind of leverage is she looking for. And because you know McConnell might say well, we don`t want to trial anyway. On the other hand, I think the president probably wants to be acquitted, doesn`t it. I think he probably believes he will be acquitted. So, how would you like to be impeached and then somehow that`s all of it and you don`t get the acquittal.

He wants to go to the American people with an acquittal I assume, so there`s leverage on both sides here.

MELBER: When you were in the Senate trial of Bill Clinton, did you see senators keeping an open mind over the course of the trial about evidence? Did you see the idea of well maybe we do want to hear these witnesses as I showed it`s not apples-to-apples but is that something where senators are teetering any of them or is it really frozen.

DORGAN: No, there are some. You know there will be some that are very partisan, they`re part of their team, right. They`re not going to deviate from being a part of the team. But there are others that really take a look at the evidence and say, all right what happened here. I mean let`s try to understand what the truth is. Get to the truth. And I think it is important to have some witnesses, it`s really, I mean--

MELBER: How do you feel when you watch it back and you see as we showed said Senator Susan Collins not speaking in caveats, but saying bottom-line witnesses help you get to the truth. She today is not publicly saying that yet anyway.

DORGAN: Well, and Lindsey Graham and others, I mean it`s hard. I mean the problem is you shouldn`t be putting these videos back because it puts them on the record in a different impeachment trial and now, they come to a new impeachment trial. And the question is what`s changed. You said it was really important to have witnesses. What`s changed or hasn`t changed or are you going to vote now against the interests of Senator McConnell who is all about control.

MELBER: You know you asked for it, Senator, by requests like the DJs, you mentioned McConnell, we got one more clip of old McConnell tee this up. Take a look.

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MCCONNELL: Our nation is indeed at a crossroads while we pursue the search for truth, or will we dodge and evade the truth. The President has engaged in a persistent pattern and practice of obstruction of justice. The allegations are grave. The investigation is legitimate and ascertaining the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the unqualified evasive truth is absolutely critical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Senator Dorgan.

DORGAN: Well, the new McConnell has a lot to atone for. I mean to go to the microphones and say, I`m not impartial, look, I`m going to go here to support the President and do a trial. It makes no sense to me at all. So, I think again Senator McConnell has a lot to atone for to the American people here.

MELBER: Senator Dorgan, we will be calling on you given your experience as a longtime friend of The Beat and an expert on the trial, we`re about to see. I should mention your new book The Girl in the Photograph. If folks want to check that out. Up ahead, we go inside this fight with a special guest on the frontlines and new reporting on reports that Vladimir Putin might have fed Donald Trump the lies that led to his own impeachment.

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MELBER: I`m joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen who would be a juror in this coming trial of the President. Good evening, sir.

SEN. CHIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Good evening, Ari. Good to see you.

MELBER: Good to have you. So, we`ve walked through a lot of the history. We heard from someone who voted the last one. What do you see as important when you come back in January? McConnell has to start some sort of trial. But beyond that, what are you demanding?

HOLLEN: Well, I think the most important thing is to have a fair trial and that`s why Speaker Pelosi is exactly right to say she doesn`t want to send over the Articles of Impeachment until she gets some assurance that we`ll have a fair trial and the need to do that has been heightened by the fact that. Mitch McConnell, Senator McConnell has already said that he won`t be an impartial juror. He`s already said he`s in total cahoots with the President, who of course is the defendant in this case.

And McConnell has already said that he`s going to oppose efforts to get fact witnesses who have direct knowledge. And so obviously that`s not a fair trial. Every American knows that that does not constitute a fair trial. And so, we`re going to keep pushing to get those assurances from McConnell before we proceed.

MELBER: Do you and Senator Schumer have a plan to try to bring over any of the moderate senators that would seem on the map here you just need to get to 51 on any individual witness. It`s more about them than McConnell per se.

HOLLEN: Well, I think the more we have a public conversation about what constitutes a fair trial and you know most Americans have grown up by watching trials either in the courtroom or on TV and they know that part of a fair trial is getting the relevant documents, getting the relevant witnesses and to the extent we have more of a public conversation about the parameters of a fair trial. I think the harder it will be for any senators.

But including those Republican senators to oppose efforts to call those witnesses, so that`s why highlighting this conversation and the way Speaker Pelosi has put a focus on this is important to the overall outcome here.

MELBER: Right. And I hear you on that view on the messaging. The other fact is that the House managers come in, they make this case on the Senate floor. You could have a vote about witnesses afterward. I want to play one of the moments we saw very briefly on the House floor last night. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not impeaching this President. He is impeaching himself. If you are the President and you obstruct justice, tried to bribe a foreign leader and threaten national security, you`re going to get impeached. End of story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yields back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It was one of the breakout moments because she made the case in 20 seconds. What are you looking to hear when the House managers present to you as a juror?

DORGAN: Well, I think that`s exactly the case and it sums it all up. I mean the President violated the public trust. He abused power by you know essentially bribing, extorting a foreign government to interfere in our elections and undermine our free democratic process. And in exchange withholding essential military aid to deter Russian aggression. So that`s the core of this issue and I believe the House has made its case for impeachment. But I also believe that we need to be open to any additional evidence including what the President said.

President said, he wanted a big full trial in the Senate. He wanted to put forward evidence on his behalf and so, I will withhold final judgment until all the evidence is in. But my goodness, I mean it`s the President who said he wanted to have all these witnesses. And at the same time, he`s telling them, I`m not going to let you go down there. So, obviously, the American people recognize that until we get the full witnesses for the trial, it`s not going to be fair by any measure.

MELBER: Well, that`s part of the fact-finding part of this. I mean if Rudy Giuliani can go on Fox News and John Bolton can sell a book through the instrument of government to the public also get their testimony in a fact- check way under oath. I think there`s a big question there. Senator Van Hollen, I appreciate you coming on The Beat, sir.

DORGAN: Well, I`m glad you mentioned, under oath is the key right. These are people who would have to testify under penalty or perjury, of course that it could always take the Fifth Amendment if they want but they need to appear.

MELBER: Well and taking the Fifth could also be interesting. I don`t know if you know Senator, you`re not under oath when you`re on Hannity. So, it`s different.

DORGAN: It`s totally different. And that`s why the President gets away with making all the untrue statements he does. Even as he tells us that he wants to go talk to Mueller right, even as he tells us he wishes he could come down here, well, come on down.

MELBER: Come on down, yes.

DORGAN: Swear yourself in like--

MELBER: You`re calling the bluff.

DORGAN: Like all the witnesses in the house. Yes. Come on down and send your folks down and have them testify penalty or perjury. Look, Mick Mulvaney can blurt something out at a press conference at the White House and then he can take it back the next day. But when you`re under oath, we find out that the first version was right. I guarantee you.

MELBER: Well, senator will be an eye on - keep an eye on all of it. Thanks for joining me tonight. I`m going to fit in a break.

DORGAN: Thank you.

MELBER: When we come back one more update.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Congress has been busy and so are we on this momentous week. We plan to come back to you with a new episode of our special impeachment program. That`s this Sunday 9 PM Eastern, we have a lot to get to. I hope to see you then.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: That does it for me. I`ll see you back here on The Beat 6 PM Eastern tomorrow. Hardball with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The Trial of Donald Trump. What`s for "Hardball."

 

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