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U.S. and Iran both back off escalation today. TRANSCRIPT: 1/8/20. The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Gregory Meeks, Margaret Carlson, John Breaux, Robert Malley, KattyKay, Jeff Merkley


Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chuck.  Thank you.

And we begin with breaking news. 

Tonight, the president is embracing these new public signs from Iran that both countries may de-escalate after last night`s attack on military bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed. 

And while that news appears very publicly welcomed by both parties in Washington, the Trump administration`s ongoing handling of the Iran crisis is coming under withering criticism, and not only from Democrats tonight, but increasingly from some very recognizable Republicans. 

Consider Utah Senator Mike Lee, a conservative who is one of Trump`s defenders on impeachment right now, the Senate rolling out plans for how it would hold that trial.  But Mr. Lee just walked out of the Trump administration`s military briefing for members of Congress late today, where there are already reports of multiple moments of grumbling in the room by those members aghast at the Trump administration`s presentation. 

Well, Senator Lee walked out and just unloaded on the Trump administration`s briefing. 


SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  I would add it was probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I have served in the United States Senate. 

One of the messages we received from the briefers was, do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran and that, if you do, you will be emboldening Iran.  I find this insulting and demeaning. 


MELBER:  That is an unusually devastating public assessment from a Trump ally who, by the way, if you want to get into the politics, comes from a very red state of Utah. 

So imagine what other senators are saying in private. 

Tonight, we can also report another Republican senator, Rand Paul, criticizing that briefing as well. 

The failing grade from Senator Lee also speaks to the emerging paradox facing the Trump administration`s foreign policy right now.  The initial results, at least of the welcoming de-escalation, are embraced, but the way that Mr. Trump and Pompeo and his team have led this high-stakes battle has even their own allies concerned, the seemingly impulsive moves that were undercut by the administration`s own conflicting statements and, to be clear, some outright lies, including the total lack of evidence for that sweeping military claim that the Trump administration`s original strike was to contain a -- quote -- "imminent threat."

All this comes as Trump himself has at times linked the congressional pressure on Iran policy with his own standing in his looming impeachment trial. 

Consider new reporting from "The New York Times" that Trump pointed out to one person who spoke to him on the phone he had been pressured to take a harder line on Iran by some Republican senators whose support he needs now more than ever amid this impeachment battle. 

Among Republicans, Donald Trump facing these Republican senators, some of whom want him to be measure hawkish, others demanding he just be more organized as they decry this -- quote -- "worst briefing" they have ever seen. 

Meanwhile, among Democrats, Speaker Pelosi moving forward on a House vote tomorrow to try to formally limit Donald Trump`s military powers, citing urgent concerns about Trump engaging in hostilities against Iran without a strategy moving forward. 

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee and was in that briefing. 

Good evening, sir. 

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR):  Good evening.

MELBER:  What is your view of how the briefing went?  Do you share the concerns of your Republican colleague Senator Lee? 

MERKLEY:  This briefing was incredibly patronizing. 

The whole argument being presented was that there was an imminent threat, but if you asked any of the questions about who, where, when, how, was a decision made, nothing amounted to the fact that there was an imminent threat.

And the argument that bringing a debate to the floor of Congress about intervention in Iran or war with Iran would be a factor disrespecting our troops, that idea that Congress is not here to have any role in the issues of war and peace is exactly contrary to the Constitution, a Constitution this president doesn`t respect. 


MELBER:  Just for folks processing this, because this is all new, relatively recent breaking-type news, you`re telling us that the administration sent people down, and they told you -- and this may be why so many are outraged in both parties -- they told you that for the Congress, which has the war-making authority in the Constitution, for the Congress to want to debate this is anti-military, anti-security? 

MERKLEY:  Specifically, they were addressing the issue of bringing a resolution to the floor, one that discusses, for example, the War Powers Act AUMF, an authorization for use of military force, that this would be very divisive and show division, when we shouldn`t be showing division. 

MELBER:  Sure.

MERKLEY:  In other words, there`s no respect for the fact that the Constitution lays out division that no president should be able to take us to war, only a collective decision by Congress, because decisions of war involve so much blood and so much treasure, that it can`t be entrusted to one person. 

That was our founders` fear of the damage of war.  And there`s no respect or understanding of that.  In fact, they proceeded to say that, in terms of future consultations, just talking to us in this briefing was their consultation, according to the secretary of state. 

This wasn`t a consultation.  This was a -- I don`t know, a kind of brush- over all the facts because they`re not going to really tell us what`s going on. 

MELBER:  Senator Rand Paul, I mentioned, weighing in on this again.  This is all late-breaking.  Here are his new comments. 


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  What I hear was less than satisfying.  I see no way in the world you could logically argue that an authorization to have war with Saddam Hussein has anything to do with having war with people currently in Iraq. 


MELBER:  Can you enlighten us on what he`s referring to and your view of it? 

MERKLEY:  Well, as I just caught that comment for the first time, that argument that dealing with Iraq -- and I think he`s referring to the 2002 authorization for the use of military force and using that as a justification, when it was all about Saddam Hussein for attacking Iran, if I`m extrapolating from what I just heard. 

Rand and I are introducing, the Democratic lead, Republican lead, a resolution that states -- and we have just introduced it -- that states that the 2001 and 2002 authorizations, one dealing with Afghanistan, one dealing with Iraq, absolutely do not provide congressional authorization for war with Iran. 

MELBER:  And so that is your bipartisan effort to draw a line in the sand early, even if, tonight, as we have mentioned, looks like signs of de- escalation, that in no way is the Congress going to sit that out if the Trump administration cites that to do more in Iran? 

MERKLEY:  Well, we absolutely are going to have a debate. 

I don`t know where a majority of Congress will come down, but we absolutely have to have this conversation, this debate, and send the message that it matters.  We have made massive mistakes in Afghanistan, massive mistakes in the war in Iraq that have cost us 10,000 lives, 10 times that in injuries that persist through a lifetime, trillions of dollars of treasure. 

We need to have the sort of honesty that empowers a debate, not the sort of misleading information that was the weapons of mass destruction, if you will, justification for going into Iraq. 

MELBER:  Senator Merkley, as mentioned, a busy night.  Thank you for joining us. 

MERKLEY:  Thank you. 

MELBER:  I want to bring in a special panel right now, BBC`s Katty Kay, Robert Malley, a former assistant to President Obama who dealt as lead negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal, and former U.S. Senator from Louisiana John Breaux. 

Good evening to each of you. 

Senator, beginning with you, given how tonight`s news is really turning on the vector of what multiple senators in both parties say was an attempt by the administration to seize on what many see as good news today and strong- arm the Senate. 

I`m curious your reaction. 

JOHN BREAUX (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  I think two things are important, Ari, to look at. 

Number one, Iran apparently told Iraq before the attack that -- what they were going to do, knowing that Iraq would tell us.  Secondly, after their attack, they apparently, through back channels, let us know that they weren`t going to do anything else. 

I would have hoped, based on that, that President Trump would have used that information as an occasion to say something positive about the situation, i.e., maybe talking about, let`s negotiate.  Let`s talk.  Let`s meet. 

Instead, he talked about some very severe new sanctions that were going to be put on Iran, instead of calling for an opportunity to sit down and talk. 

MELBER:  Do you, as someone who`s widely seen as kind of a moderate, pragmatic senator, if I may, not to throw too many adjectives at you...

BREAUX:  Thank you. 


MELBER:  Do you see a kind of unforced error on a day like today of the administration antagonizing senators in both parties with what they thought was this tough talk, the kind of rhetoric we saw at times in the Bush administration, that any debate over foreign policy was being cast as somehow antithetical to the troops? 

BREAUX:  Yes, that`s what I meant when I said I wish he had used today`s press conference as an opportunity to say, all right, we responded.  They responded to us, and then here we know that that`s not all -- that`s all they`re going to do. 

But let`s talk now, what are we going to do in the future?  What`s the next step?  And I think the next step should be something along the lines, let`s sit down and talk.  Let`s negotiate.  Let`s talk about a new anti-nuclear treaty, instead of just putting additional sanctions on a country that has already been heavily sanctioned. 

MELBER:  Well, if you want to speak about the anti-nuclear treaty, I think we have someone who has spent years speaking, working, writing on that. 

Mr. Malley, with all your extensive experience here, your view? 

ROBERT MALLEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO COUNTER-ISIS CAMPAIGN:  Well, I think, I mean, today`s good news.  The good news of the day is only relative to the very bad news that many of us feared, so we have to put it in perspective. 

We would not have been here, we would not have had this crisis, we wouldn`t have had Iranian aggression in the Gulf, Iranian attacks on our military sites in Iraq, the -- and everything that ensued and what happened last night if it hadn`t been for the reckless, self-defeating and unjustified decision by President Trump to withdraw from a nuclear deal that was working, with all the imperfections of any deal.

But it was working in terms of keeping Iran in the box, and then imposing this maximum pressure campaign against Iran.  That`s at the origin of this crisis.  That`s what has led Iran to decide to lash out regionally and to decide to walk away in part from the nuclear deal. 

So, again, we could salute the fact that we are where we are today.  It`s better than where many people feared we could be.  But the story isn`t over, because the roots of the crisis have not been addressed, and so it`s the end of a chapter.  It`s certainly not the end of the story. 

MELBER:  Katty, I often hear from people who are following the news or thinking about where America`s at, where the Congress is at, I often hear the question, well, where are the outraged Republican?  Where are the Republican leaders?  When are we ever going to hear them stand up on whatever the issues? 

Say, they don`t think the case against Trump for removal is strong enough, but what about all the myriad other issues?

And with that in mind, I want to play a little bit more of this really strong, unusual statement from Senator Lee, who is a Republican that does defend the president on many other issues, not just saying he opposes this, but saying what they did, what they marched down today and did on behalf of the Trump administration and the Congress was the worst thing he`s seen in his nine years in service. 

Take a look. 


LEE:  It was probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I have served in the United States Senate. 

And they had to leave after 75 minutes, while they`re in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public. 

I find that absolutely insane. 


MELBER:  Insane, worst ever.


KATTY KAY, BBC:  Yes, I mean, patronize senators at your own risk, right, is a lesson perhaps to all American presidents.  They clearly don`t like it, and particularly on an issue like this. 

And I think what I`m hearing from people on Capitol Hill is there`s quite a sense of deja vu.  For anyone that either covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 or who was up on Capitol Hill during that time, everybody is sensitive to the idea of whether intelligence is being manipulated to support a political end in the service of intervention, in the service of an intervention that doesn`t end well. 

And I think that`s particularly what you`re hearing from Senator Lee here.  And it does matter what the intelligence says about what Soleimani was about to do.  If there isn`t the intelligence there that justifies that, it also raises the issue of whether this is just a precedent. 

You could take out anyone you like around the world when you want to do it, without some kind of concrete intelligence that says there is a direct, imminent, immediate threat to American interests, because that`s a very bad precedent for America to start setting. 

Other people will take note of that who could then use it against the United States in the future. 

MELBER:  Robert, speak to us about that and why imminence is such a keyword. 

MALLEY:  Well, it is a key word because, legally, we should not have been able to do what we did, unless there was a justification both in terms of domestic, the prerogatives of Congress that we heard about, but also internationally.

And that argument of imminent threat, I think, never held water.  First of all, the administration itself started walking it back very early on by saying, well, imminent could be days, weeks, months.  That is not imminent by any stretch of the imagination. 

Other officials talking about retaliation.  So I think it was never a solid justification.  It was a post hoc argument that was used by officials.

MELBER:  And if it doesn`t hold water and it`s post hoc, after the fact, does that make it a lie in the service of a military objective, whether people agree with that objective or not? 

MALLEY:  Whether it`s a lie or -- I don`t want to -- I will let others judge.  But it certainly seems to have been a distortion of what was -- what were the facts used to try to justify something that has real -- was a real gamble. 

Again, people could have a sigh of relief today, but the gamble continues.  We don`t know how this will play out.  It was an unnecessary gamble and apparently an unlawful one. 

MELBER:  Senator?

BREAUX:  Well, Ari, if they can`t convince Senator Mike Lee, they have got some real problems. 

And the Congress is much skeptical since the weapons of mass destruction argument way back.  And now they don`t just automatically accept these briefings without asking some very tough questions.

And, like I said, if Mike Lee doesn`t agree with that justification, they got some real serious problems with more moderate members of the Senate. 

MELBER:  Katty?

KAY:  Yes.  I mean, Mike Lee has been a staunch defender of the president. 

The other concern that I`m hearing from -- actually, from a former Trump administration official is that all of this could backfire in President Trump`s own aims of trying to get American forces out, because there`s a strong possibility now that he`s not only going to have to have more forces in the region.

He could have to keep them there longer than he might originally have intended, because of the chaos that has been produced because of this killing of Soleimani. 

I mean, even the fact that we have had to delay the war or pause the war against ISIS, which is resurgent in Northern Iraq, that`s a problem for the United States.  And it could in the end, end up meaning that President Trump, who`s always said he wants to get these troops back again, would love to go into a second election saying he brought troops home, he won`t be able to say that now. 

MELBER:  Katty Kay, Robert Malley, and former U.S. Senator John Breaux, thanks to each of you. 

Coming up:  There is a strong new statement you`re going to hear from Speaker Pelosi about the endgame of this impeachment battle. 

We will also be joined by a member of Congress who`s literally voting tomorrow on these bids to limit Donald Trump`s war powers, obviously, a very big deal. 

Later, we will fact-check some of Donald Trump`s attempt to actually blame his Iran`s decisions on, yes, the predecessor of the Obama administration.

And later tonight, I have a special guest with some very interesting insights on the shift of both parties with the shadow of Iraq, as we just mentioned. 

I`m Ari Melber, and you`re watching special coverage on THE BEAT on MSNBC. 



QUESTION:  Are the articles going to be transmitted tonight? 


QUESTION:  Anytime soon? 

PELOSI:  I -- do you listen when I speak? 

I said, when we saw what the arena is, that we would be sending them in, and we would send over the articles. 

We haven`t seen that.  So I don`t know how many more times I have to say that or how many more times you want to ask it.  But when we see the arena in which this will happen, we will then be prepared to send the articles, the pay-fors, and the managers. 


MELBER:  Speaking Pelosi reiterating her line for Mitch McConnell. 

We`re joined by one of her colleagues, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who was also in that classified briefing on Iran today. 

Thanks for joining me, sir. 

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY):  Good being with you. 

MELBER:  I`d like to get to the briefing in a moment.  We were discussing that for our viewers a few moments ago, but beginning with the speaker`s statement there.

What does this mean in terms of when the trial will start in the Senate and what else you, the speaker, the Democratic Caucus in the House hopes to get in advance of that trial?

MEEKS:  Well, I hope everybody by now that Nancy Pelosi is not like the president of the United States.  She says what she means, and she means what she says.

And that`s why she`s been very consistent about it all.  We need to know what the rules are and will be when the trial starts on the Senate side.  And it`s not going to go over until we know what those rules are. 

How can you start a process without knowing the rules?  And so she says what she means.  There will be no handing over -- and I agree with her, because if you`re going to be the one that`s going to prosecute the case, et cetera, you have got to know what the rules are. 

So then you know who to even send over there.  So, until that happens, you know, McConnell needs to tell us what the rules of the game is, and he needs to work it out with Schumer.  And I think that you will see that, then and only then, will Nancy Pelosi move. 

MELBER:  But you know who`s starting to disagree with that position?  It`s not just Republicans, sir.  There are now some Democratic senators who are saying this point was made and it`s time to send them over soon.  Take a look. 


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT):  We are reaching a point where the articles of impeachment should be sent. 

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME):  I think it is time for the speaker to send the articles over. 

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV):  The sooner we receive this, the sooner we can find out if we`re going to have a real trial or not. 


MELBER:  What do you say to that? 

MEEKS:  I say that we don`t know whether we`re going to have a real trial or not. 

When you have a statement by the majority leader, who said that he is going to be complicit with the attorneys of the defendant, in this case, the president of the United States, it is clear that you want to make sure you know what the rules are, because never before have you heard something like that. 

Before he takes the oath of office that he will have to take when this proceeding starts to say that he will be fair and impartial, he`s already said that he`s not.  And so, therefore, it becomes even more important.

And I think that, you know, to know whether witnesses are going to be able to testify, what the rules are going to be, et cetera, what, you know, he says he`s going to have the votes, those things need to be clear.

And I think Nancy Pelosi is going to -- she means what she says, and she says what she means. 

MELBER:  Well, and she did say that she means what she says.  That`s certainly true, as she laid it down to the cameras there. 

As mentioned, I want to then also turn to, of course, the other big story we are covering here, our lead story, which is both the crisis with Iran, but also the clear signs of potential de-escalation.  Take a listen to the president today on all of this. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Last week, we took decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist from threatening American lives. 

At my direction, the United States military eliminated the world`s top terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.  In recent days, he was planning new attacks on American targets, but we stopped him. 


MELBER:  As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, with oversight over the administration, your response to that position, to the briefing they gave today, to what they`re getting right in your view, if anything, and what, conversely, they may be getting wrong? 

MEEKS:  Well, I agree with Senator Lee and Senator Rand.  They have got some bipartisan agreement. 

It was a joke, what I heard today.  There was nothing of substance that went to show whether there was any imminent threat or anything of that nature.  There was nothing that was given that I did not already know from either MSNBC or reading from other news source. 

It was really a joke in that regards. 


MELBER:  You`re saying it was a "joke" -- quote, unquote -- and you`re saying you didn`t hear any information that wasn`t already in the public domain? 

MEEKS:  I heard nothing new. 


MELBER:  How does that compare to military-style briefings you have had in past years and past administrations? 

MEEKS:  Well, look, it was completely different. 

I was here in 2002, and though I voted against the Iraq resolution, I did have the opportunity.  They were talking about imminent threat and this and that.  I had the opportunity to go and talk to, to listen to what they told me, but then to try to verify the facts of what they said.

So I went to the Pentagon myself and talked to folks.  I had other individuals from the administration that came in.  We had opportunities to really ask questions of the secretary of state then. 

What happened here on the House side, you know, they gave us basically -- after they made their opening statements, you had 45 minutes with all of these 435 members of the House in there, many individuals wanting to ask questions.  In fact, I was on line because there were certain questions that I wanted to make sure I got a chance to answer, and only about six or seven members got a chance to ask questions. 

How is that a serious meeting in a confidential nature on a matter that is so serious as this? 

MELBER:  Yes. 

MEEKS:  So it really calls for just -- should we just say we`re going to trust them on what their assessments are, trust them, when we have an administration that has been proven, "Washington Post" now says, over 15,000 times that they have lied, when you look at the back and forth and the flip-flopping of almost every member of that administration, particularly the president of the United States?

He says one thing one time and another thing another.  And you see even in their language they`re trying to move back from the imminent threat now, because they -- or the imminent damage that was going to be instructed and put on people. 

It just does not add up.  One and one is not equaling two in this scenario. 

MELBER:  You mentioned the past.

It`s interesting hearing tonight Senator Mike Lee from Utah, Congressman Gregory Meeks agreeing that, in both of your terms of service, you thought today was a standout, as you put -- quote -- "joke" of a presentation on one of the most important foreign policy matters. 

I know that you and Mr. Lee don`t agree on everything, sir, so we will mark this down as striking. 

Congressman Meeks, thanks for making time. 

MEEKS:  My pleasure.  Good being with you. 

MELBER:  Yes, sir. 

We are going to turn to an architect of President Obama`s deal with Iran and a critical observer of Washington. 

We`re back in just 30 seconds. 


MELBER:  As the nation takes in all of the new information we have been getting about the crisis with Iran and signs of de-escalation, it`s all against the backdrop, of course, of this looming impeachment trial of the president. 

Today, Donald Trump tried to de-escalate, and he also assigned some blame, in his view, of this whole crisis, on a day when, again, he could have just tried to invoke the positive, as a guest was explaining higher in the show. 

Well, he brought up of course, Barack Obama.  What you`re about to see is not true. 


TRUMP:  Iran`s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. 

The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. 


MELBER:  ... politics into the foreign policy debate is a reminder that Trump has politics on his mind with an impeachment trial that Republicans say they will make explicitly as political as possible. 

On that, we will have other updates.  NBC News reporting more about the trial preparations.  Rudy Giuliani now will reportedly not get a role in the Senate trial.  Keep in mind the significance of that.  That is a vote of no confidence, because it is Rudy Giuliani who was part of the defense team for the Mueller probe.  Now he`s being, apparently, publicly sidelined. 

Meanwhile, discussions continue about which House members might or might not be involved in the president`s defense. 

We turn now to former Ambassador Wendy Sherman.  She was at the table literally crafting that Obama Iran nuclear deal, and is currently a professor at Harvard University School of Government. 

You see her there near Secretary of State Kerry at the time. 

We`re also joined by Margaret Carlson from The Daily Beast, a Washington expert who has covered many of these issues.

And, Margaret, with that in mind, I go to you first simply to give us a journalistic context to what we have heard, a rarity, perhaps, of agreement from members of Congress in both parties tonight. 

If you flipped on your TV, you would be forgiven in thinking it wasn`t 2019, because Republicans and Democrats are agreeing about something big, in this case, a condemnation of the Trump administration`s approach tonight.  Your view? 

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST:  I expected Paul -- Rand to say what he did, but I was shocked that Senator Mike Lee called it insane, the briefing that he got to explain why Trump made the strike that he did against Iran. 

It`s clear, after Trump`s press conference, that Trump thinks he won at least the news cycle, and he restored -- he didn`t like people scoffing at him for not responding to the drone strike, and he didn`t like the embassy -- the attack on the embassy.

So he got -- you know, the impulse to respond, he got to play that out.  Now he has to deal with the consequences.  He thinks he won, but it`s, I think, a short victory to win one news cycle. 

And when Mike Lee finds a spine to come out the way he did, I think it`s remarkable, because Mike Lee is an ally.  He`s an ally in impeachment, and he`s generally an ally of Trump.  And you do not hear Senate Republicans bucking Trump in any way. 

Part of that press conference felt like a hostage tape to me, because he certainly doesn`t want to ask for help from our NATO allies.  He doesn`t like our NATO allies, and he`s repelled them.  And then, other parts, you know, he`s reading from the teleprompter.  It`s not his best way to communicate, and you know, talking about more sanctions.

And he`s not a graceful winner, if you want to call this even a short win.  He`s not graceful in victory. 

MELBER:  Yes, it`s striking when you say that, because, Ambassador, as is always the case with these stories, there`s much we don`t know.  And it can change very quickly. 

But it certainly was a day where the administration did not have to, in the view of at least these Republican critics, make this many mistakes, when you had a headline of potential de-escalation. 

I want to briefly give you, on the substance, a chance to walk us through the facts.

As regard to the political attack that the president made on Barack Obama, the Associated Press notes there was no such multibillion-dollar payout from the U.S. Treasury.  There was a separate payout from the U.S. Treasury.  It wasn`t $150 bil.  It was an IOU for about $1.8 bil.

And then moving to Pompeo with a far more significant claim that experts have said has not been supported by any evidence on the imminence, take a look. 


TODD:  If there is an imminent operational attack getting put together against American interests, why are you convinced that taking out Soleimani has done anything to stop it? 

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  We would have been culpably negligent had we not taken this action, has been crystal clear... 

TODD:  Is it that imminent?  Is the threat -- is what -- the attacks he was putting together so imminent and so big it would have been seen as that kind of negligence? 

POMPEO:  We made the right decision. 


MELBER:  Ambassador, the significance of both this and what viewers should know? 

WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS:  Viewers should know that the president has once again put on the table any number of facts that are not facts whatsoever in his mind. 

The -- it`s a little pathetic, I must say, and actually childish, though adult destruction, that he is blaming everything on President Obama after being in office himself for three years. 

The facts are that, after the joint comprehensive plan of action, the nuclear deal was signed, people in Iran were elated, as opposed to chanting "Death to America."  After the JCPOA was signed, until the president pulled out of the nuclear deal, there were no rocket attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq.  There were no drone strikes. 

There were no end to Saudi oil fields.  There was none of what we are facing today.  That all has come after the president pulled out of the nuclear deal.  Where the money is concerned, as the AP reported, indeed, the $150 billion was all Iranian money frozen in foreign bank accounts. 

Former Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, in fact, said at the time about $50 billion of that was Chinese loans that probably weren`t any good.  Another $50 billion were bad loans that were never going to be collected, which left them with $50 billion, most of which they would keep in foreign accounts for general commerce and trade. 

The 41.8 billion, as you point out, was because, in the `70s, we sold to Iran before the revolution about $400 million in military equipment.  We never sent it to them because of the Iranian Revolution.  At The Hague, there has been a negotiation going on for quite a long time.

And President Obama used the moment of the deal to try to settle that deal in a way that would have been better for us than if we had left it going on because it kept accumulating interest.  And so most of that money was interest.  Only $400 million in cash was given to the Iranians, the rest of the interest to be paid down the road.

So, lie after lie, quite frankly, was put on the table today, and it is really pathetic that the president constantly is in competition with President Obama, when, in fact, he should be protecting the national security of the United States. 

MELBER:  I will say, Ambassador, having followed your public statements and career, you sound more stark than other times, when you use more diplomatic language.

So it`s interesting, given the stakes, and that you want to draw a line here. 

And, Margaret, this goes to the larger question of how much U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration is adjacent to or directly based on false propaganda, because that`s what brings us back to impeachment, where the House, the Congress of the United States has said the president should be removed for the abuse of foreign policy powers, the abuse of power to pursue a propaganda theory that involved other countries.

And here we are today looking at a de-escalation, while the ambassador has just laid out the number of falsehoods that appear to be either selectively invoked to defend the president or at times perhaps forming policy itself.

CARLSON:  Falsehoods as far as the eye can see in such a short period of time from Donald Trump. 

You know, Wendy is to Iran and Iraq as John Bolton is to Ukraine, you know, a firsthand, indispensable witness setting it all straight. 

I mean, I think the imminent threat is going to become the WMD.  There`s not going to have been one.  And in the tape you played, Pompeo just gave us a conclusion.  He gave nothing to support that there was any imminent threat.

And all the little things we have heard since suggest there was none at all, and that Trump just felt like a strike was in order.  And, you know, he`s not a hawk. 

MELBER:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  He`s going into the next election having said he was going to end endless wars, but he`s really going to end up with more troops, not less troops. 

And as far as the propaganda, you know, he`s so driven by his grudges, the one against Obama being perhaps the most severe, that he can`t see straight.  It drives him.  I mean, he still thinks -- he`s still asserting that Obama wiretapped him, and he had a whole entire Justice Department trying to prove it, and they haven`t. 

He just -- you know, he`s driven by these impulses that we just can`t imagine an adult having. 

MELBER:  Well, you get the last word on that.  That`s an adult who happens to also be the commander in chief.

CARLSON:  I have impulses, yes, right.  I`m an adult with impulses, so I recognize it. 


MELBER:  Well, impulse control, a key thing.

Margaret Carlson, Ambassador Sherman, appreciate both of you. 

When we talk about what Margaret was just discussing, Donald Trump torn between the Iran confrontation, but also, yes, these past pledges against intervention, in a country that is so skeptical after the Iraq War mistakes, I have a very special guest, first time on THE BEAT, on all of that, when we come back.



DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  When you have a person who was one of the most brutal dictators in the adult lifetime of anyone in this room, who tortured people, who killed people. 


MELBER:  The U.S. clash with Iran has many Americans questioning whether the U.S. should take actions that can risk war in the Middle East. 

President Trump`s rhetoric emphasizes the U.S. is clearly the stronger power, but Americans can recall how those arguments fared in Iraq, where war stretched on for years after Saddam Hussein was toppled and put on trial, resulting in over 100,000 violent deaths, shaping hard foreign policy choices for the Bush and Obama administrations and reshaping foreign policy politics, first in the Democratic Party, where pro-war candidates like John Kerry and Joe Lieberman soon gave way to a new senator who was distinguished largely by being against the Iraq War.

And then in the Republican Party, which turned away from Bush`s neoconservatism to embrace an unusual candidate who ran, among other things, against the Iraq War, with other Republicans joining in. 


TRUMP:  Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. 

PAUL:  The war didn`t work. 

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR:  Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence and not having security be the first priority when we invaded, it was a mistake.  I wouldn`t have gone in. 


MELBER:  Our next guest was in the middle of many of these battles and the shifts across both parties.

Joe Lieberman served 24 years in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat and independent.  He was on the Democrats` presidential ticket as Al Gore`s running mate in 2000.  Lieberman ran for the Democratic presidential nomination himself in 2004, and in the next election, in 2008, he endorsed Republican nominee John McCain over Barack Obama. 

Former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman is on THE BEAT. 

Thanks for being here. 

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Glad to be here, Ari.  Thank you. 

MELBER:  When you look at the president`s stance towards Iran...


MELBER:  ... A, is he organized and getting it right, and, B, do you worry about the U.S. getting closer to war with Iran? 

LIEBERMAN:  Well, one, it looks like they were organized, but, of course, I wasn`t inside the process, so I don`t know. 

It certainly was organized in the sense that they had good intelligence on Soleimani, and, of course, we have this extraordinary capability to hit him, the target, without collateral damage.  Nobody -- no American troops were on the ground, et cetera, et cetera. 

So -- and we did act quickly, I must say, to prepare to defend against a response from Iran. 

Today, I think we have to be grateful, based on Iran`s reaction and President Trump`s reaction this morning to Iran.  He didn`t say, oh, they struck our base.  We have to hit them back.  I think he took it for what it was, which was, they attacked.  They didn`t hurt or kill any Americans.  Let`s go in -- and they put out statements saying they don`t want it to escalate.

And I think the president wisely this morning accepted that and de- escalated himself.  Hopefully, it will lead to some negotiations between the two countries. 

MELBER:  When the Trump administration justifies the original strike by saying there was perhaps an imminent threat, and then walking it back, not providing evidence, does that concern you? 

LIEBERMAN:  Well, I hope they provide some evidence. 

I know that they were supposed to meet with people on Capitol Hill the last couple of days to present some. 

I will tell you personally, that, years ago, I said that I thought that Iran had declared war against the U.S. because of the way in which they were training the militias to go back into Iraq, and, according to the State Department, be responsible for the death of more than 600 American soldiers. 

They also spread out across the Middle East through these proxy terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, et cetera, et cetera.  So I think there was -- and Soleimani was at the heart of all that, so I think the whole region and the world are -- And he was a hater of the United States. 

MELBER:  Sure. 

LIEBERMAN:  Are safer with him gone. 

MELBER:  Safer with him gone.  That`s under debate, depending on what happens afterward. 


MELBER:  It was the same claim, of course, as mentioned with Saddam Hussein, another very bad actor in the region. 


MELBER:  Let`s briefly look at some of your remarks as an advocate of the Iraq War. 


LIEBERMAN:  Every additional day that Saddam Hussein is in power in Iraq is an additional day of danger. 

We`re there militarily to provide the security, the secure environment in which the Iraqis can -- the 27 million can choose their own government and determine their own futures. 


MELBER:  Democratic Party leadership went on to deem it a mistake.


MELBER:  We just showed the current president, who you agree with on Iran, also deemed it a mistake. 

Do you ever look back at it and say it was a mistake? 

LIEBERMAN:  The actual decision to try to take out Saddam Hussein, I think, was not a mistake, and I think there was justification for doing that.

And him being gone made the region and the world and us particularly safer.

But it is obvious that there were tragic mistakes in the conduct of the post-war period in Iraq which put the country of Iraq and us through some very difficult times. 

MELBER:  And the last question, while I have you, your first time on THE BEAT. 


MELBER:  Don`t want to pivot too hard to politics.


MELBER:  But you have shown willingness to endorse any which way. 

Do you know which party you would be endorsing for president in 2020, and are there any Democrats that you like? 

LIEBERMAN:  Well, I never left the Democratic Party, even though I ran as an independent. 

I consider myself -- I am a registered Democrat. 

MELBER:  You opposed Barack Obama`s election.

LIEBERMAN:  I did.  And that was my dear friend, and a man I thought would be a great president, John McCain. 

So, in the normal course of things, as a Democrat, I...

MELBER:  Who has the best shot to beat Trump, in your view? 

LIEBERMAN:  I don`t know yet, I would say.

And I`m a little modest about this, because I never would have guessed Donald Trump would have won last time.  But I -- so predicting Democrats, I have a natural inclination toward Biden, Bloomberg, and people like Klobuchar. 

MELBER:  And Warren and Sanders, if they`re the nominee, would you support them? 

LIEBERMAN:  I`d have to think about it, because we have substantive disagreements on a lot of things. 

I don`t know Warren at all.  I know Senator Sanders.  I like him a lot.  We served together for a period of years.  But I worry about whether he could actually be successful in November. 

MELBER:  Joe Lieberman, first time on THE BEAT.  I hope you will come back.

LIEBERMAN:  I will, Ari.  Thank you. 

MELBER:  Senator, thank you very much.

LIEBERMAN:  Be well.

MELBER:  And when we come back, the reaction now pouring in to that dramatic statement we showed you from Republican Mike Lee blasting the Trump administration. 

More after this. 



LEE:  I would add it was probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I have served in the United States Senate. 

One of the messages we received from the briefers was, do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran and that, if you do, you will be emboldening Iran.  I find this insulting and demeaning. 


MELBER:  That is the unusually strong rebuke that Republican Senator Mike Lee gave to the Trump administration`s Iran briefing late today, echoed by Rand Paul, both Republicans objecting to what they see as the Trump administration trying to silence legitimate debate over Iran policy. 

Now, just moments ago, their colleague Trump defender Lindsey Graham responding. 


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I think they`re overreacting, quite frankly.  Go debate all you want to.  I`m going to debate you, trust me. 

I`m going to -- I`m going to let people know that, at this moment in time, to play this game with a war powers act, which I think is unconstitutional, is that, whether you mean to or not, you`re empowering the enemy. 


MELBER:  Empowering the enemy. 

A member of the deliberative body that decides on war there, Senator Graham, echoing these White House talking points that democracy itself empowers the enemy. 

You know, the good news today was the signs of de-escalation.  The bad news is that, even with that potential breakthrough, the calls to silence democracy in Congress are now coming from within Congress itself. 

We will be right back.


MELBER:  Thanks for joining us on THE BEAT tonight.

We will be back tomorrow covering all the news, including what is a scheduled House vote to limit the president`s war powers.

  Don`t go anywhere, though.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.