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Giuliani still pushing Ukraine scheme. TRANSCRIPT: 12/23/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Berit Berger, Maya Gay, Leah Wright Rigueur, Glenn Kirschner, NealKatyal, Elise Labott

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Hello, everyone. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in for Ari Melber. Welcome to THE BEAT on this Monday evening.

Tonight, Democrats ramping up the pressure for impeachment witnesses after new Ukraine revelations. Also, Neal Katyal on why Mitch McConnell is wrong about the Senate trial. Also, a new court filing showing that Democrats still thinking about more articles of impeachment against the President. But we start this hour with new demands for witnesses in the trial of Donald Trump. Those calls getting louder after the release of emails sent just 90 minutes after Trump`s infamous Ukraine phone call.

White House officials ordering the Pentagon to stay quiet about the frozen military aid at the heart of this plot. A budget official writing "given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate you keeping that information closely held to those who need to know." Now that frozen aid is at the center of the impeachment case. And now Democrats say, these new emails highlight the need for more evidence and more witnesses.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This e-mail is explosive. A top administration official, one that we requested is saying, stop the aid. 91 minutes after Trump called Zelensky and said keep it hush, hush. From whom did Duffy get the order and why did he do it. What more do you need to request a witness?


MOHYELDIN: Right, so today the top Republican in the Senate Mitch McConnell saying they`ll decide on witnesses after the trial starts.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (D-KY): What we need to do is to listen to the arguments. Have a written questioning period and then decide whether we need witnesses or not.


MOHYELDIN: And new tonight, a possible curveball for Trump. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee telling a federal court that they want former White House Counsel Dan McGahn to testify, so they can decide "whether to recommend additional articles of impeachment." That obviously would be a huge development and signals how seriously Democrats are treating obstruction by this White House. I talked to Chairwoman Maxine Waters about that just last night.


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): What we see is a continuation of them not responding to subpoenas, them not responding to the requests for documents. The President basically telling everyone around him, don`t respond to them, don`t answer, don`t cooperate with the Congress. What are they hiding?


MOHYELDIN: All right, I am joined now by Mara Gay, New York Times Editorial Board Member, Berit Berger, Former Federal Prosecutor; and Harvard Professor Leah Wright Rigueur.

Great to have all of you with us. Berit, let me begin with you because House lawyers seem to want to possibly include additional articles of impeachment, if they get this court order in their favor that Don McGahn has to potentially testify. What is your reaction to that development and how significant is it?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, there`s nothing in the Constitution that says they can`t include additional articles of impeachment, if additional evidence comes forward giving them a basis for doing this. I think perhaps the reason they`re highlighting this now is to have a response to the DOJ`s position, which was essentially that Don McGahn`s testimony was moot at this point, because it didn`t affect the existing two articles of impeachment that have been voted on.

So, they had to come up with a response to say, no, we still think this testimony is important. But obviously if Don McGahn is able to testify and has incriminating information that would lend credence to another article of impeachment, it`s well within their right to go forward on that.

MOHYELDIN: And Leah, what is your reaction to that as well? Is it pretty significant and is it uncommon in any, just a regular legal proceeding that more as evidence comes to light, more charges are added?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Well, I don`t think you know once more evidence comes to light, it makes sense that you would bring additional charges based on the findings and that in fact that from the beginning of this process this is what it`s always been about. Even the moments when we knew way back when months ago, when we were talking with the House about you know what kind of articles would we bring forward? Do we want to bring impeachment forward?

It was always about having this really good grounding in the evidence. And there was always kind of a conversation around what could Don McGahn bring and what kind of testimony and wanting to subpoena him and wanting to get him in front of people because they know that they know - that he knows where the bodies are buried.

So, there was always this conversation, but now that it`s become a reality in the last couple of weeks and the White House has increasingly been pushing back on that, now this is a different - I think different kind of story and a different kind of narrative.

So, essentially the White House is giving them the momentum, giving Democrats the momentum to bring additional charges based on whatever comes to light.

MOHYELDIN: The White House is trying to make a legal argument saying that by asking done McGahn or asking the courts to weigh in on Don McGahn`s testimony, they could then be injecting themselves into the impeachment process and are saying therefore they should not be allowed to make a decision about Dan McGahn. Is there any legal truth to that saying that you know the third and coequal branch of government is not allowed to interfere in a congressional legal proceeding?

BERGER: I mean of course not. And of course, the Judiciary has to be able to weigh in on this. I mean what you have here is a White House that has obstructed this congressional investigation and we`re not going to comply with any of these subpoenas. So, the next logical step is to bring it to the judicial branch and so this is well within their power and they really have no choice but to step in if there is a unsettled legal issue where here we have the issue of how far does this executive privilege, how far does this absolute immunity actually extend.

MOHYELDIN: And Mara speaking of new evidence, there have been these e-mails that have been released over the weekend, a lot of people pointing to them saying they kind of showed the timeline 90 minutes after that phone call with Zelensky, President Zelensky and President Trump.


MOHYELDIN: Interesting what`s significant about it is not necessarily the timing of it, but the notion as we were saying at the top of this show, the directive to the Pentagon official to keep this quiet on a need-to-know basis. What is that tidbit of information tells you about what may have been or alleged to have been a cover up?

GAY: I mean this gives you the context in which these White House officials were operating.

MOHYELDIN: They knew something was wrong.

GAY: They knew it was wrong. They did it anyway. It is - I mean I won`t go into the legal side of things. I`m not a lawyer, but from a political point of view and a commonsense point of view, it really tells you a little bit about their intent. And it tells you about their mindset when they were actually involved in this alleged cover up.

And I think ultimately the Democrats have a constitutional obligation as public servants to get as much information about what has occurred to the American people as possible. And it`s also you know a trial in front of the American people. I mean ultimately this is about who can control the narrative. The White House in its fantasy land or whether Democrats can actually gain a toehold to make their case in front of the American people, not just the courts. It`s not just about the courts.

MOHYELDIN: It`s incredible when you think that even Mitch McConnell is not necessarily letting witnesses come forward. We may never hear from some of these people who are involved in what Democrats alleged could potentially be an impeachable offense. But what do you make of that significant development in the e-mails that a budget official is essentially telling a Pentagon official hey, keep this quiet for now, don`t - and to even now, just keep this quiet? Don`t let anyone know about it. From a legal perspective, what is the significance of that.

RIGUEUR: So, I think this is, it corroborates what people have been saying now not just for months, but for years which is that the White House believes that it`s above the law and believes that the law does not apply to itself. It doesn`t apply to its representatives that there was a real - whether it be out of incompetence, whether it be out of maliciousness or mal intent that there is a real disregard for how rule of law works, how authority works for accountability, but also just how things operate in government.

Right, so the idea of transparency, the idea of ethics, the idea of morals all of that is out of the window because we`re talking about a White House that has a complete disregard for rule of law and makes its own set of rules and its own set of facts.

MOHYELDIN: It`s interesting because I feel like we`re talking about a legal aspect to this. Mitch McConnell, he`s got a very different interpretation about what this whole process is. Let me play you guys his sound bite talking about what he thinks this process is about.


MCCONNELL: Do you think Chuck Schumer is impartial? Do you think Elizabeth Warren is impartial?


MCCONNELL: Bernie Sanders is impartial, so let`s quit the charade. This is a political exercise. All I`m asking of Schumer is that we treat Trump the same way we treated Clinton.


MOHYELDIN: They may not even be doing that because at least the Clinton trial had some witnesses or depositions. There were all kinds of testimony going into the actual impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. But what is your reaction to him making that statement that you know what this is an entire political process. It has nothing to do with impartiality.

GAY: Look, these people need to be voted out of office. OK. There are public officials serving in both parties across this nation at local levels and in state houses who actually truly serve the people that they voted for them and they put their duty to their constituents and the American Constitution above partisan politics. That`s something that we`re not seeing. You have a higher duty. It`s not just duty to party. This is about duty of the Constitution to the American people and to democracy.

And these people have made a mockery, these Republicans, OK, of our Constitution. They`re not supposed to just be about partisan politics. It`s the other sidism is really frustrating as well. I mean we really do - the Democratic Party has plenty of problems. But right now, we have only one party in American democracy that is committed to democracy. And the other party that seems more interested in power.

So, ultimately the voters are going to have to take care of this.

MOHYELDIN: Berit, the interesting thing about this is that jurors in a normal trial come from all walks of life and they have their own personal biases, but they`re asked to suspend those biases in a courtroom. So, I`m not sure that I even understand Mitch McConnell`s point which is, they are politicians, but once they step into that chamber and are involved in a legal proceeding, they`re supposed to put their biases on the side.

BERGER: It`s exactly right. And it`s a high standard that we ask for our jurors. I mean I`ve done countless jury trials and--

MOHYELDIN: Their whole legal system is based on it.

BERGER: Exactly. When you`re interviewing juries in the voir dire process, you hear a little bit about their background. But one of the things the judge asks each and every one of them is like OK, can you put all of that aside and just focus on the evidence. Why should it be any different for our senators, right. Why shouldn`t they be able to put aside their political biases, their political views, their party views and listen to the actual evidence.

Also, you`re only going to get that way if you`re actually able to present evidence, a trial without evidence is an absolutely toothless charade. Right. Is nothing for the senators to actually dig into to vote on. So, they need both evidence and absolutely like you said, they should be able to take the same standard as a regular criminal lawyer.

MOHYELDIN: Leah, this may be more of a political question than a legal question. But if in fact the President goes, or this trial happens that he is ultimately acquitted. Does it hurt him that he does not get a fair trial that he gets a sham process that he just runs around town or across the country saying he`s been acquitted by when everyone knows it was not fair.

RIGUEUR: Well, I think no matter what, he was going to call it in part you know a biased trial. Right. And that part of what we`re seeing is the White House`s strategy of saying I want to have my cake and eat it too, which is to say the President hasn`t had a fair trial. But you know the things that would require that we would require for a kind of impartial trial and all of these things like witnesses testifying, in fact the President doesn`t want people to do.

So, he`s instructing people not to testify or participate in the process. So, in this respect, no matter the outcome, the President can say, well I wasn`t given a fair shake. It`s not fair. And so I think this is part of the strategy you`re seeing, but it`s also why Democrats are going - pushing what is going to amount to a constitutional crisis which is going to force Republicans to say, either we stand for the Constitution or you know what, we are just concerned about--

MOHYELDIN: Speaking of witnesses, let me play you this sound bite from Amy Klobuchar talking about the need for witnesses. Watch.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The polls show 64 percent of Republicans think these witnesses should testify. The president claiming his innocence, claiming that he wants to present witnesses. He`s the one blocking the witnesses.


MOHYELDIN: All right, realistically Mara what is it that Democrats can do to really force the hand of Mitch McConnell to have witnesses. Is it a public pressure campaign? Is it calling the senator`s office, what`s it going to take?

GAY: It`s all of the above. And Speaker Pelosi has any trick up her sleeve that a speaker can have. She has nobody knows the rules better than she does. But ultimately, the leverage may not be there. What they need to find is they need about four members of the Senate who are Republicans, who will demand a fair trial, so to speak, for the American people.

They need to be looking at folks like Mitt Romney and Susan--

MOHYELDIN: See if they can get to--

GAY: To see if they can really get them to pull some leverage here. But ultimately everything is about the election which is less than a year away and that`s going to be the ultimate check on the power of Mitch McConnell, the White House.

MOHYELDIN: Political accountability. Maya, Leah, thank you so much. Berit stick around for one more block.

Coming up, a top White House aide still pushing Putin`s propaganda about 2016. Also, Rudy Giuliani`s expanding conspiracy theories even some Republicans are now sounding skeptical, believe it or not. And the Trump administration under fire for its Saudi Arabia policy after a court ruling that critics call a travesty of justice. All that, plus Neal Katyal on Donald Trump`s Senate trial. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MOHYELDIN: Tonight, as the Senate readies a trial of the president for only the third time in this country`s history. Team Trump still pushing misinformation about the 2016 election. A top aide to Mike Pence pushing the discredited theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does President Trump still believe that it was Ukraine, not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election.

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Chris, it doesn`t have to be an either war. It can be both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President believe that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election?

SHORT: He thinks that we should at least investigate it, Chris. We`re not questioning Russia`s interference, right. Chris, I`m accepting that, but it doesn`t mean that just because Russia interfered, doesn`t mean others didn`t as well.


MOHYELDIN: And as we`ve reported there is no evidence that Ukraine interfered in the election. In speaking of investigations while American intelligence agencies have traced that theory back to Russia. In fact, the Times reporting the Kremlin has engaged in a year`s long campaign to frame Ukraine as responsible for Russia did back in 2016. This comes as new reporting digs into just how much influence Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have on President Trump.

The Washington Post noting Trump grew insistent Ukraine had worked to defeat him. After a meeting with Putin back in 2017, a former White House official saying Trump stated bluntly "Putin told me." Meanwhile, Putin also stepping up his attacks on the impeachment itself. Echoing Trump being rhetoric in an end of year news conference.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: House of Representatives is the Democratic majority. They`ve lost the elections and they are trying to revise this with the means that they have at their disposal.


MOHYELDIN: Of course, Trump taking to Twitter to agree with the Russian President highlighting a write up of Putin`s comments adding a total witch hunt. With me now former federal prosecutors, Glenn Kirschner and back with us is Berit Berger. Glenn, this is it - I don`t know if it`s an easy question or a tough question but why does President Trump trust Vladimir Putin over American intelligence agencies?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don`t know that he does. I mean if President Trump accepts the fact that Russia interfered to his advantage and helped him get elected, it would delegitimize his presidency. So, I don`t know that it has anything to do with an honestly held belief by Donald Trump that Ukraine interfered instead of Russia.

I think he doesn`t want to do anything that would in fact delegitimize his presidency and you know Vladimir Putin, Ayman must laugh himself to sleep every night, because he whispers sweet little propaganda in Donald Trump`s ear. Donald Trump parrots it back and low and behold the Republicans in Congress then spit it out on the floor of the house, on the floor of the Senate. And I`m sure Vladimir Putin never stops reveling in his own good fortune to have diverted attention away from Russia and placed attention on Ukraine.

MOHYELDIN: It`s quite remarkable that Marc Short, the Vice President`s Chief of Staff can go on national television and stay and say, it should be investigated, when in fact all of American intelligence agencies have said it was not Ukraine, it was Russia. Former NSC official Fiona Hill testified about Trump`s Ukraine interference theory. Watch.


FIONA HILL, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: Based on questions and statements I`ve heard, some of you on this committee appeared to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps somehow for some reason Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.


MOHYELDIN: What is your reaction to that, Glenn?

KIRSCHNER: You know it`s the fact that White House officials would say, it should be investigated. It has been investigated as you say, Ayman, 17 intelligence agencies. A bipartisan commission of Congress. Bob Mueller for goodness sake indicted the Russians who interfered in our elections. It`s been investigated and investigated and investigated.

And the fact that Donald Trump would actually say as is related by senior White House officials. But Putin told me it wasn`t him that would be like me prosecuting cases and saying well you know what, I can`t prosecute this defendant because the defendant told me he didn`t do it. You know it`s absurd.

MOHYELDIN: Berit, I`m curious to get your thoughts on how a false Ukraine theory like this being advanced by the White House can either fit into a defense strategy if there is a coherent one by the President or what does that play here. Are we missing something legally speaking from the President and his defense team?

BERGER: No, I don`t think we are. I actually agree with Glenn. I`m not sure how much we can believe that the administration truly believes that it was Ukraine that was responsible. I think in many ways this is them putting together a defense of saying he actually was really concerned about corruption in Ukraine. This wasn`t just a chance to get dirt on Biden. This wasn`t just looking into know the election. He was truly deeply concerned about what was happening there to add some sort of legitimacy to the call, to add some sort of legitimacy to his requests from Zelensky to sort of show how they were combating corruption.

So, whether - if this was a totally discredited theory that nobody believed in, it wouldn`t have as much you know legs to it. But if this is something that they can put out there that he truly believed that he thought was legitimate, it may be some sort of a defense that they can put forward during the trial.

MOHYELDIN: I always find it interesting and coincidental that Trump suddenly became obsessed with fighting corruption in Ukraine just as Joe Biden entered the Democratic race and suddenly became the front runner. Let me play you guys this sound bite from Trump talking about Putin at Helsinki - at a Helsinki summit last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: My people came to me, Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said, they think it`s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties.


MOHYELDIN: Berit, do you think this is going to be a problem for the election cycle going into 2020, if you have a president who - his agencies may be coming to brief him on some of the updated security risks, maybe not just from Russia, maybe China, Iran elsewhere and the President is just taking the word of those countries at face value?

BERGER: Absolutely. And it should be something that every single person in this country is concerned about. Right. If you don`t know the source of where the President is getting his information that should be deeply concerning. We should hope that a president is getting his or her information from the very people that are sourced with gathering that in a responsible and manageable way, not from outside sources. So, this should be worrying for everybody.

MOHYELDIN: Glenn, final word to you about the impeachment and the Ukraine theory that is being put forward. Does the presence of somebody like Rudy Giuliani, we`ll get into that a little bit later on in the program? But what he`s trying to do in terms of digging up stuff on Ukraine. Does that factor in impeachment, in muddying the waters?

KIRSCHNER: I don`t think so. He`ll deliver his little Mickey Mouse report that was apparently generated by Rudy Giuliani, a meeting with a whole bunch of sorts of corrupt, fallen, disgraced Ukrainian prosecutors and officials. And I think it will land with a thud and I don`t think it will be worth the paper it`s written on. And I doubt it will make a serious appearance in the impeachment trial.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Glenn Kirschner, Berit Berger, thank you both very much. Ahead Neal Katyal is here with a preview of the Senate impeachment trial and why new witnesses are in fact necessary. That`s when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MOHYELDIN: President Trump has been impeached, but almost every day we`re still learning new details about his Ukraine conspiracy. Friday night, we learned that just 90 minutes after Trump`s infamous Ukraine call, White House officials told the Pentagon to stay quiet about the frozen military aid.

In the past week, we also learned that a Rudy Giuliani Associate secretly got $1 million payout from a Putin-linked oligarch that Putin himself apparently fed Trump those bogus Ukraine ideas. And that a key witness to the plot, Bill Taylor is now being ordered to leave Ukraine. In other words, this is far from over.

There is still a lot we don`t know which highlights the need for new witnesses at Trump`s Senate trial. There were 41 witnesses at Andrew Johnson`s trial, three at Bill Clinton`s.


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.


MOHYELDIN: In fact, Republican senators back then felt they needed witnesses including some who will be voting on Trump`s fate now like Susan Collins.


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


MOHYELDIN: With me now former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal. His new book Impeach, The Case Against Donald Trump and just moments ago he published a new op ed in The Washington Post titled "new evidence for impeachment keeps turning up." That`s why we need witnesses. Neal, thank you very much for being here. Make the case for us. Explain why witnesses are needed at the trial despite what somebody like Mitch McConnell says that they are not needed.

NEAL KATYAL, ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: I mean there are so many different ways to do so, but let me just give you one microcosm and that`s what The Washington Post piece that I just launched a few minutes ago says.

So, on Friday night Trump had tried to keep these e-mails secret from his OMB executives but they came out and because of private litigation, he`s tried to hide them. And then the emails say, I`ve won on July 25th just 90 minutes after the President had his quid pro quo phone call with the President of Ukraine saying you know I need a favor from you though.

90 minutes later, this OMB, this Office of Management and Budget official, a Trump political appointee orders the aide withheld and then says effectively keep this quiet, only tell Pentagon budget officials.

Now why did he want it kept quiet. Who`s keeping it quiet from. There`s only one real explanation here and its Congress because he`s required actually under law, if you try and not spend some money that Congress is allocated, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 requires Congress to be told about it and they weren`t.

Now that official Michael Duffy who wrote those emails, he`s been on the witness list for the Democrats in the House, in the Senate. The Senate has only named four people, they want on their witness list. He`s one of them and this is before this email.

Now look, can you come up with some possible explanation for what Duffy said in those emails. It`s really hard, which is why Trump tried to hide the emails in the first place. But I suppose it`s possible, that`s exactly why Duffy needs to come and testify and tell the truth to the American people.

And what Donald Trump has done as he said, no, full order, Duffy, and no one else can testify. The most striking thing about this is that Donald Trump is being impeached for blocking witnesses. And his solution is, I`m going to go block witnesses again in the Senate. It is a grave abuse of power.

MOHYELDIN: And he`s certainly getting some help from the Senate including people like Mitch McConnell and there`s a bit of irony in all this that senators are expected to swear an oath to do impartial justice. But Mitch McConnell doesn`t seem to be living up to that. What is your take? What would you say to Mitch McConnell when he makes the argument this is not a judicial process? This is a political process.

KATYAL: I mean impeachments in the Constitution; I can`t think of a more grave responsibility than the Senate which has allocated the power to - the sole power to try impeachments. A trial is after all a legal proceeding and of course impeachment has political overtones. But no, you can`t go out and just announce your verdict before having the trial. I mean I know that`s what McConnell is familiar with and Soviet justice.

But in this country, we have real trials with witnesses. And as you said, Andrew Johnson had 41 witnesses. Clinton had three. The idea that you have a trial with no witnesses and to have the Senate majority leader predetermined and preannounce his results ahead of time. You know this is a constitutional travesty. And you know Mitch McConnell has shown several times he has no appreciation for the Constitution. But I don`t think the American people will support such a thing.

MOHYELDIN: There is an interesting theory that is being floated out there by Trump allies and some scholars who are claiming that President Trump in fact hasn`t really been impeached because the documents, the articles themselves have not been transmitted to Mitch McConnell`s office.

Watch this sound bite.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: One can make a fairly decent argument that the President wasn`t really even impeached. Nancy and the gang ran out of town without even naming impeachment managers and without sending the articles to the Senate.


MOHYELDIN: I`m not sure she can make a legally based argument. But has Trump been impeached or not?

KATYAL: Oh! He`s certainly been impeached. I think nobody really believes this. Constitutional scholars don`t believe this with the exception of one guy at Harvard, who`s I think enamored a little bit by his intelligence which is obvious. But this is a clever but ultimately terrible argument. It`s an argument the House didn`t believe, it would mean the House has been kind of debating a resolution and taking witnesses and hearing testimony for no reason at all. That can`t possibly be the rule.

They voted to impeach the President and most importantly, Donald Trump himself thinks he`s been impeached because his own Justice Department made a filing last week in federal court in the McGahn case, which said that case is now moot because he`s been impeached. So, you know nobody with - I think nobody serious really believes this.

MOHYELDIN: And let me get your final thoughts on the role Chief Justice John Roberts will play in all this. He is expected obviously to preside over the trial. There has been some sparks or tensions if you will between President Trump going after Chief Justice Roberts on Twitter at least over the past a year or so. What do you expect him to play? Does he have any actual power or influence, not on the outcome but just at least in the decorum and the process of how this plays out?

KATYAL: Oh! I think the Chief Justice has a massive role to play. So, impeachments of the president have been governed by the same rules that have been around since Andrew Johnson in 1868. And they say that the Chief Justice is the one to decide over which witnesses will appear. And so, you know McConnell has been trying to signal that maybe I guess he`s going to try and break with those rules and try and do something totally different, something very unconstitutional.

But that`s going to require I think a real significant rebuke by the Senate over the Chief Justice. I just don`t think that`s possible. And so, I do think ultimately the Chief Justice is empowered by those early 1868 rules to decide on witnesses. And when you have a circumstance like this in which one of the two central allegations against the President is, he`s obstructing justice by blocking witnesses. I think it`s unlikely that this Chief Justice who`s known for fairness is going to say, OK, Mr. President, you can go block some more witnesses.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Neal Katyal, always a pleasure. Thank you very much. And for more expert analysis from Neal, check out his past segments at Coming up, Trump`s Saudi Arabia policy under fire after a controversial move that critics say makes a mockery of justice. And fresh reporting on Rudy Giuliani`s new unhinged conspiracy theories. Also, Ari special look back at the top 10 legal stories of 2019. But first, a clip that had lots of people shaking their heads this weekend, the President renewing his attack on an old enemy. Windmills.


TRUMP: I never understood when and I know windmills very much. I`ve studied it better than anybody, I know it`s very expensive. Tremendous if you`re into this, tremendous fumes, gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world right, so the world is tiny compared to the universe, windmill will kill many bald eagles. It`s true. And you know what. After a certain number they make you turn the windmill off. That`s true, by the way. Why is it OK for these windmills to destroy the bird population? And that`s what they`re doing.




SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I don`t know what Rudy`s got. But I`m going to send him a letter. If you`re going to go on national television until the country that you found evidence of a cover up, then I hope you know what you`re talking about. I`m going to have an open invitation to Rudy Giuliani to come to the Senate Judiciary Committee and tell us what you found. And if he come, you`ve got to be willing to ask questions about your conduct. It`s just not good for the country to make these accusations on cable television without them being tested.


MOHYELDIN: All right, so even Trump defender Lindsey Graham seeming to take a skeptical view towards, Rudy Giuliani calling on him to back up his wild claims under oath. Giuliani traveling to Ukraine this month pushing the very scheme that got his client Donald Trump impeached in the first place. NBC News reporting that he now claims to have new proof of various debunked conspiracy theories. This alleged proof includes four whistleblowers, two multi-billion-dollar schemes and an Obama cover up.

NBC News political reporter Josh Lederman wrote that story and joins me now from Iowa. Josh, good to have you with us. I know you`ve been following this case but the interesting thing about it is that even Trump defenders as we just played there from Lindsey Graham are now wary of Giuliani. What does he really claim to have found?

JOSH LEDERMAN, NBC POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, skepticism even from Lindsey Graham. At the same time, Lindsey Graham and some of his colleagues inviting some of the very witnesses involved in what Rudy Giuliani says he`s uncovered. So, he`s been really cryptic about what exactly he`s floating. And we wanted to really dive into what he says he`s learned.

So, the first bucket of allegations has to do with these two multi-billion- dollar corruption schemes that he says he`s uncovered and that he says the Obama administration and former Ambassador Yovanovitch worked to cover up because it essentially would look bad for Democrats.

One was a $5.3 billion what he says was a corruption scheme involving wasted U.S. taxpayer dollars. So, we took a hard look at that. It turns out the U.S. has never given $5.3 billion to Ukraine, in fact the top recipient of U.S, aid, Israel only has ever received about 3.8 billion and there was an accounting review done by a parliamentary agency in Ukraine that found some of the money wasn`t spent as effectively as it could have. But no evidence of corruption or money laundering.

Similar situation with another over a $7 billion scheme that Rudy Giuliani has been talking about publicly related to the investment firm, Franklin Templeton. And this is money, he says that former President Yanukovych stole out of Ukraine and somehow smuggled into the U.S. through this firm. Well, we took a look at that and spoke with the company. It turns out the money actually went in the exact opposite direction; it went from the U.S. to Ukraine through bonds that were purchased. So, not a lot of water in that one either.

And then lastly, he`s been talking about these four would-be Ukrainian whistleblowers who he says have wanted to come to the U.S. to testify about some type of corruption that they`re aware of, but that Yovanovitch blocked them from getting visas in Giuliani`s argument so that they couldn`t come and expose this type of wrongdoing.

And obviously, visa records are confidential, but we know that at least one of those potential witnesses, former prosecutor Viktor Shokin, Ambassador Yovanovitch testified, he didn`t get his visa because he was involved himself in known corrupt activities, not because of some type of malfeasance he was coming to the U.S. to uncover.

MOHYELDIN: Let me ask you really quickly with the time we have left about Rudy Giuliani`s mental state here for a moment, because New York Magazine`s Olivia Nuzzi also just profiled Rudy and she writes "he said former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is controlled by George Soros. He put all four ambassadors there and he`s employing the FBI agents." So, I go back to my initial point, which is, is Rudy Giuliani starting to sound a little crazy and I`m not trying to joke about it but I`m saying our people around the president and others concerned when he makes these types of assertions on the record that a private American citizen controls the FBI and is also manipulating our diplomatic corps by appointing ambassadors?

LEDERMAN: Well, Ayman, it`s certainly veering farther and farther into the land of totally unbased conspiracy theories, including this Soros conspiracy theory about Ukraine which we at NBC News took a deep dive into and found Giuliani and his associates had been promulgating that really without any evidence.

But look part of the reason that Rudy Giuliani is doing this even if it seems unhinged to a general audience is because it plays really well for the President`s base and for those who are looking for reasons to support Donald Trump even throughout his impeachment, these give them something to hang their hat on.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Josh Lederman out on the campaign trail for us, but also covering multiple stories at the same time. We always appreciate it. Josh, thank you.

When we come back, we have Ari Melber special look at the top 10 legal stories of 2019. Plus, a new spotlight on Donald Trump`s support for Saudi Arabia after a controversial ruling that critics call a travesty of justice.


MOHYELDIN: Some of the biggest stories of 2019 played out in the courts. Here`s Ari Melber`s look at the top 10 legal stories of the year.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Number 10, R&B singer R. Kelly arrested.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bombshell involving R. Kelly, the music star who has been trailed by allegations of sexual misconduct for years has now been criminally charged with sexually abusing multiple underage victims.

MELBER: He`s expected to head to trial next year. Number nine, Mexican drug lord El Chapo on trial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything about this and this trial was larger than life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most powerful and notorious leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel.

MELBER: He was convicted on drug charges and a murder conspiracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty on all 10 counts.

MELBER: Sentenced to life in Colorado`s supermax prison. Number eight, the border crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news tonight on the humanitarian crisis at the southern border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Overcrowding for showers for 756 immigrants.

MELBER: Sparking outrage across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings.

MELBER: Number seven, the fight over the President`s tax returns intensifies. Trump going to the Supreme Court asking them to block a House subpoena for his tax returns. They are expected to rule in June.

Number six, Trump aides convicted and jailed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Former Trump Attorney and Fixer Michael Cohen is now behind bars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger Stone was convicted on all seven counts that were brought against him. Stone is now the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted as part of the Mueller investigation.

MELBER: Number five, President Trump gets a new attorney general, Bill Barr, who emerges to defend the President on the Russia and Ukraine scandals far more aggressively than his predecessor.

Number four, financier Jeffrey Epstein dies in jail. The hedge fund king was arrested and was facing charges for sex trafficking of minors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeffrey Epstein is dead. Epstein took his own life while he was behind bars.

MELBER: His death now under FBI investigation.

Number three, the college admissions cheating scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This story is on the front page of every paper around the country. Actress Felicity Huffman walked into court and pled guilty, but others have decided to fight

MELBER: Huffman spending 11 days in prison. Loughlin expected to go to trial next year.

Number two, Special Counsel Mueller completes the Russia investigation, finding criminal interference by Russia and charges leading to the conviction of five Trump advisers, but no chargeable election conspiracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The long-awaited Mueller report has just been submitted, perhaps the most highly anticipated and potentially explosive document in recent American history.

MELBER: Breaking his silence in a pair of appearances, testifying before Congress and holding a surprise press conference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

MELBER: And our top legal story of the year, Congress impeaches the President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For just the third time in the history of our country. The House of Representatives is going to vote on the impeachment of a president.

MELBER: The House voting to impeach Trump on two articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It is tragic that the President`s reckless actions make impeachment necessary.

MELBER: The first President to face such a rebuke in his first term. After Trump asked Ukraine to investigate his rival Joe Biden, soliciting foreign interference in 2020. Senate leaders planning a trial of the president in January. It`s been a year with justice in the headlines and many battles over the principle that no person is above the law.



MOHYELDIN: Tonight, there is new focus on Donald Trump`s support for Saudi Arabia after a court there delivered what critics call a travesty of justice. That ruling came in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which sparked global outrage last year. In fact, a Saudi court sentencing five men to death in connection to his murder.

But clearing top Saudi officials believed to be behind the killing. Critics at the UN calling the verdicts the antithesis of justice and "a mockery." Donald Trump has stood by Saudi Arabia despite the murder. In fact, he sent his son-in-law and Treasury Secretary to a conference there this fall. The White House made sure to strip out spending measures, banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia. And Trump has repeatedly praised Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the man the CIA says ordered Khashoggi`s murder.

Joining me now is Elise Labott, a longtime foreign affairs journalist now with Georgetown University. Elise, good to have you with us. Let`s talk a little bit about this Saudi court sentencing. What is your reaction to it and how has it been playing out?

ELISA LABOTT, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY JOURNALIST IN RESIDENCE: Well, I mean I`m sure you can have a similar feeling. I mean we all kind of knew that Crown Prince Mohammad himself wouldn`t be implicated. He clearly wasn`t on trial here even though the United Nations the U.S. intelligence community and he believes he ordered Jamal`s killing.

You would have thought though with the 11 people on trial that some of his closest aides Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri. By all accounts mastermind was the mastermind behind the plot and oversaw it. And so, the fact that they were two of the people along with the consul general of Istanbul were the ones that walked free while five others that the henchmen, if you will, were committed to death sentences and three others in jail.

I think that kind of strains a little bit of credulity. I mean you would have thought that at least those people would have been also found guilty. And I mean look as you said, it`s playing out exactly as you expected. The United Nations Amnesty International, the Washington Post where Jamal was a journalist, a columnist, all calling this really a travesty of justice although a senior administration official tonight called it an important step in finding those that were believed to be responsible accountable.

MOHYELDIN: Let me and you know Saudi Arabia very well obviously someone who knows it would say that it`s hard to imagine something like this happen without MBS`s knowledge and at least unprovable MBS obviously being the crown prince. He was asked that in a 60 Minutes interview back in September. Watch what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia: Absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The CIA has concluded with medium to high confidence that you personally targeted Khashoggi and you probably ordered his death.

SALMAN: I hope this information to be brought forward. If there is any such information that charges me, I hope it is brought forward publicly.


MOHYELDIN: Obviously the trial was done in secrecy, so no one knows what evidence was ever presented in it. But is that denial credible, do you think?

LABOTT: I mean look the intelligence community and I trust those analysts believe that he was responsible. If you want to be charitable, I suppose you can say that he wanted the Jamal problem, he was criticizing. The Crown Prince taking care of and some of his aides thought that this was the way to do it. But I mean look there is a lot of evidence that clearly must have not been presented in court that he did have some knowledge of the plan if he didn`t order it.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Elise Labott, thank you very much. That does it for me. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is next.