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Trump to go on trial by Next Week. TRANSCRIPT: 1/14/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: John Flannery, Andy Greenberg, Anna Palmer, Emily Bazelon, EricSwalwell


Ari, do you have your Ritz-Carlton memo pad with you?


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Got the memo, and we`re going to get deep into it.

TODD:  Oh, my gosh.


MELBER:  We have all written things on notepads.

TODD:  Can you let Joe and Victoria know?

MELBER:  Yes. It`s always interesting to see the details.

TODD:  Yes.

MELBER:  Thank you, Chuck.

TODD:  Thank you, sir.

MELBER:  We join you tonight on this edition of THE BEAT on the eve of the political trial that could define this Trump era, Speaker Pelosi announcing the House will vote tomorrow to send the impeachment articles to the Senate, setting the trial to start at one week from today.

Moments ago, Democrats revealing this new impeachment evidence that Chuck and I were just discussing. Some of it is fascinating. And it hooks in Rudy Giuliani in a big way.

We`re also seeing some new cracks among Republicans about how to put Trump on trial.

And, later tonight, there are new Russian hacks targeting Donald Trump`s rivals. If it sounds like a lot, that`s because it is a lot.

But, right now, our top story begins behind closed doors, as Speaker Pelosi huddled today with Democrats and continued her strategy to shape the calendar for President Trump`s trial, announcing a vote tomorrow to hand off the impeachment articles, to name her trial managers, essentially the prosecutors, who will walk over to the Senate and make the case to the Senate and to America that Donald Trump is constitutionally unfit to stay in office.

Meanwhile, Leader McConnell saying the trial prep, meaning getting it going, can start immediately. And we will tell you exactly what that means. An invite for Chief Justice Roberts to swear in Senate jurors this week.

And we know from history that, as the chief justice arrives, as senators are sworn in, even the often partisan, brawling atmosphere of the Capitol does tend to cool, even if briefly, because the weight of the occasion tends to set in.

And McConnell`s in no mood to delay that sobering moment? In fact, there are signs he wants to get on with it, reports tonight that this formal trial could begin as soon as Tuesday, with some Democrats looking downright pumped up today.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY):  The next step is simple. The Senate should conduct a fair trial.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX):  We`re going to reach a verdict. And the verdict is going to be acquittal.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  But we will not rest until we get the truth.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  That is assuming we`re on the trial next Tuesday. And I think that`s the case.


MELBER:  Next Tuesday.

We can also report that one of the most likely House managers, Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the Ukraine hearings and is actually one of the few House members to try a Senate impeachment case -- he did that against a federal judge -- he stayed behind for an extra half-hour today, huddling privately with Speaker Pelosi.

Now, she will announce these impeachment managers at a press conference tomorrow morning, we`re told.

Meanwhile, late today, Democrats also stating they`re turning over new evidence to the Senate. These are the documents we just discussed briefly. They have received them, they say, from Giuliani`s indicted associate Lev Parnas.

And while many Republican senators continue to defend Trump broadly, his latest effort, arguing that they should prevent any trial at all, guess who is it failing with? Republican senators. They have been coming out against the effort to rush to dismiss the charges outright.

We have a lot tonight, including the breaking story.

And we begin with Emily Bazelon from "The New York Times Magazine," and Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico. And we will be joined in a few moments by a member of Congress on that other big scoop, what they`re releasing.

From the Washington perspective, if they wanted to, at the White House, emphasize a kind of a unity and nothing to see here, it would seem to be a little bit of a misfire to put out trial balloons that are getting shot down by Republicans, like no dismissal.

ANNA PALMER, POLITICO:  It`s not surprising. This White House is often out of step with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But, certainly, the president saying we should just go for a motion to dismiss, and you even have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, no, there is no appetite. I don`t think there`s any possibility that that`s actually going to happen. I think it`s an another kind of example of where this White House and Republicans just are working off of the same playbook.

The White House often does whatever it wants to, and the congressional Republicans are kind of left to deal with the aftermath.


And this is where legal trial strategy meets Senate strategy meets everything else you`re trying to tell the country.

Mitch McConnell, if he knows nothing else, he knows how to move what he wants through the Senate. And he was pretty clearly saying, hey, Donald Trump, don`t help me help you. Let me run this. Take a look at -- here he was speaking about all of this today. Take a look.


MCCONNELL:  There is little or no sentiment in the Republican Conference for a motion to dismiss. Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments.

I think we will be dealing with the witness issue at the appropriate time into the trial. And I think it`s certainly appropriate to point out that both sides would want to call witnesses that they wanted to hear from.


EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE":  So I`d say this is pretty minimal sticking up for Congress.

Mitch McConnell knows there has to be some kind of proceeding here. That`s what the Constitution calls for.

And to some degree, the White House has been all over the map, right, because Trump`s spokesperson also said, well, call all the witnesses you want, we really don`t care, it doesn`t matter.

So it`s almost like they`re just throwing spaghetti at the wall in terms of strategy.

MELBER:  Yes, he also has a bit of a veiled threat there, which is, if I lose control of my caucus and have to add your witnesses, I will try to rally the troops add my witnesses.

This is the prospect of Hunter Biden or Joe Biden himself, who was at one point that struggling to explain what he would do if called.

BAZELON:  Yes, exactly.

So I think McConnell is putting that out there as a kind of veiled threat to the Democrats. Be careful what you wish for if we start calling witnesses.

And this also just has to do with Republican control for the Senate. I think it`s pretty obvious and or at least pretty -- you could make a good argument that the witnesses that the Democrats want to call are directly relevant to the proceedings, and they`re calling Joe Biden or even Hunter Biden is kind of going off of farther afield from the meat of the impeachment inquiry.

But, of course, McConnell has power to do it anyway.

MELBER:  Right.

I mean, a traditional defense witness in this situation would be someone in the room saying, no, no, everything the president did was all right. And those people exist. Some of them weren`t even in the House proceedings.

To go out and find family members of your rivals does seem a distant step, although, in fairness to the Senate trial rules, if you can get the votes, you could call who you want, which is why it`s interesting what McConnell was doing there.

There are people on the 2020 campaign trail, obviously, who would not like the idea of even an open invite to anyone in the Biden family as you head into Iowa.

The other thing I want to ask you about -- you`re a straight reporter. You just follow what each side is doing. I`m curious your analysis of what it means when people start to preview that this very rare historical event that Donald Trump clearly doesn`t want to have happen, that will be on television, that everyone understands is big deal, the strategy of saying this will be super boring, don`t worry about it, it`s boring.

Here`s Republican Senator Cramer.


QUESTION:  How tedious do you expect this process to be? Senator Cornyn said yesterday on the floor no phones, no iPads during this process.

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND):  I expect to drink a lot of coffee and not a heavy lunch. I expect it to be very tedious. I don`t see how anybody who`s aspired to be a decision-maker in the United States Senate wouldn`t be curious and find at least stimulating to hear the cases.


MELBER:  What do you think of what we`re starting to see, which is an almost, I don`t want to say joking, but almost lighthearted way of making the point or trolling to some degree, hey, this whole thing is going to be boring, mostly?

PALMER:  I think is a way that Senate Republicans are falling House Republicans, right, the process argument? This is all a process issue. It`s going to be boring. These hearings that were in the House, no one was paying attention to. Half the members didn`t attend.

You`re going to see senators attend. But I think from the Republican perspective, they are trying to throw as much water and say, there`s nothing to see here, folks, let`s move on as fast as possible.

MELBER:  Do you think a trial of the sitting president for public evidence that he cheated to get reelected is boring?

BAZELON:  Well, I think the Democrats will do their best to prove exactly that case.

And the issues at stake are really serious ones. And there were some pretty riveting witnesses who testified in front of the House.

But if you take out the witness testimony, and there are only lawyers arguing back and forth, it can seem damped down, it can seem less consequential and, sure, more boring than it would be with real witnesses.

MELBER:  Emily Bazelon and Anna Palmer, thanks to both of you.

We continue now out to some guests on the Hill in this breaking story, Democrats just now releasing this evidence they say is going to add to their case against Trump in the trial. And it`s been obtained from Giuliani`s indicted associate.

It includes these new handwritten notes on stationery from a European Ritz- Carlton Hotel, which in their writing appear to reference Donald Trump`s plot to try to get the Ukrainians to investigate Biden -- quote -- "Get Zelensky," the leader of Ukraine, "to announce the Biden case will be investigated."

I turn to one of the Democrats in the middle of all this, Congressman Eric Swalwell, who`s on the Intel and Judiciary committees. He`s been mentioned as a potential impeachment manager. We`re also joined by former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who was a Senate juror in the Clinton trial.

Good evening to both of you.



MELBER:  Good evening.

What is the new evidence, and why are you releasing it tonight?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, we are sending over to the Judiciary Committee to make its way to the Senate more evidence of communications between Trump associates, the president`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, relating to this shakedown scheme.

Now, I can tell you, Ari, every time we see more documents, the arrows continue to point in the direction that the president was running a corrupt scheme, putting his interests above America`s interests to have the Ukrainians help him cheat in an election, which is all the more reason that Mitch McConnell support having all the documents available from the White House and having all the relevant witnesses.


MELBER:  For your response, let`s dig into some of what`s just -- again, just hit the newsroom.

Chuck Todd was mentioning it in our in our handoff here. We have got this handwritten note. And it says -- quote -- "Gets Zelensky to announce that the Biden case will be investigated" and -- quote -- "Start communicating with Zelensky."

Can you tell us, for understanding, is this something that was not initially available to you in the earlier hearings? Is that why we`re seeing it now? And why not hold it back until the trial itself?


MELBER:  Walk us through exactly what we`re seeing.

SWALWELL:  Correct.

This is new evidence. And the evidence we have corroborates that the president was focused on having President Zelensky investigate the Bidens and also exonerate Russia for its role.

We have not seen a single piece, Ari, not a single piece of evidence that shows the president was doing anything other than that. And so he holds back witnesses or holds back documents, the only conclusion we can make is, he`s holding them back because they don`t help him.

And they all, if they were revealed, look like this Ritz-Carlton note, which is the president`s scheme was to shake down the Ukrainians and have President Zelensky to do this.

SWALWELL:  Senator Feingold, your view on all this. We`re looking again at this brand-new handwritten document.

And what you think of what Mitch McConnell has been saying and the way the process is leading to the Senate, as mentioned, a process that you`re one of the few people on Earth who has actually been a part of as a juror.

FEINGOLD:  Well, I see that the majority leader has sort of backed off on some of his fantasies about just dismissing this trial.

And it`s not because he`s doing it for the right reasons. It`s because he doesn`t have the votes. There`s too many Republicans in his caucus that aren`t going to put up with it.

I think the criticism that`s been made is valid and is starting to stink, and that is, if they make this a fake trial, and don`t allow the kind of thing that Congressman Swalwell is talking about, they are complicit in this offense against the United States.

And what the president did here is one of the worst things any president has done, basically, in American history. There has to be accountability. So the fact that McConnell is now sort of taking the Clinton model, which is at least waiting until the opening arguments, which takes several days, for both sides before a possible motion to dismiss, means that he`s feeling the pressure.

And, ultimately, it will come to a vote whether to have witnesses, whether there will be depositions or live witnesses, whether documents should be introduced.

And I happen to think that this kind of material is essential, and there`s absolutely no reason why new material can`t be introduced for a Senate trial. It`s perfectly appropriate.

MELBER:  Senator, when you see some of your former colleagues, Collins, Murkowski, who joined the Senate later, talk about wanting witnesses, and we know that it`s a handful of votes away if a few Republicans join, do you take that at face value?

Do you think that`s the pressure on McConnell? Or do you have the concern that we have also heard raised, that Collins has, for example, made big shows in the past of being potentially against something, like the Kavanaugh nomination, and ultimately sided with Republicans, which is her right, it`s her vote?

But how do you help us, having been in that body, understand what we`re seeing?

FEINGOLD:  Well, not only was I in the body when this happened 20 years ago, but I have worked with both Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski.

And I can tell you, they are often very straightforward and very sincere in what they`re doing. And I bet they`re both uncomfortable with the idea of a show trial or being complicit in this. And they`re probably hearing from their constituents that they expect something real.

In fact, I worked very closely, hand in glove, with Senator Collins. She and I consulted with professors and others on a bipartisan basis during the Clinton trial to make sure we understood the history of impeachment, what high crimes and misdemeanors were. So she was a fully earnest person and ultimately voted not to convict President Clinton.

So I think her concerns are real and sincere, and the majority leader should listen to them.

MELBER:  Very interesting.

Congressman Swalwell, walk us through what happens tomorrow. Speaker Pelosi insists that she`s gotten a benefit out of controlling the calendar. Republicans in the Senate have said it`s just been a needless delay.

Impeachment managers will be named, which is very significant. The country will learn who`s going to press this case now against the president. Are you one of the impeachment managers? Do you know who they are yet?

SWALWELL:  I believe only Speaker Pelosi knows who they are.

But it`s only a needless delay if you are trying to force a rigged outcome, which is what Senator McConnell is trying to do.

And to Senator Feingold`s point, this is not what was alleged in the Clinton impeachment trial. These crimes are much darker and threaten our democracy and our national security.

So, tomorrow, we will learn who the managers are. We will vote to send the articles over to the Senate. And, ideally, a trial takes place in the Senate that has witnesses.

And to the question, what did Speaker Pelosi gain by holding back on the articles, I would say it`s three things. First, the public sentiment is high; 71 percent of Americans want witnesses. Two, people like John Bolton have revealed themselves to come forward and want to offer relevant information.

We didn`t have that during our trial. During the Clinton impeachment trial, every witness had been interviewed by Ken Starr. We don`t have that here. The president has blocked witnesses.

And, three, new documents have been obtained, mostly through public requests, like through Just Security, which only reinforces that the president was running this shakedown scheme.

So we have achieved a lot, and looking forward to hopefully having a fairer forum over in the Senate.

MELBER:  Really interesting hearing from both of you, Congressman Swalwell, on the breaking news.

SWALWELL:  My pleasure.

MELBER:  Your folks releasing these documents. Senator Feingold, as a former senator and juror.

We will be calling on both of you, I imagine, in the days to come. Thank you.

Up next, we have a lot more on the new impeachment evidence, including something we hadn`t seen, this Rudy Giuliani letter. This is different than what I just showed you, an entire letter to the incoming Ukrainian leader, Giuliani admitting the plot was done with -- quote -- "the knowledge and consent" of President Trump. We have that breaking story next.

Later, Michael Steele joins us on the actual pressures facing people in the party that he used to chair, Senate Republicans.

And, tonight, a response to the Russia hack that could be Putin`s move to insert himself even before the Senate trial is over.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  Breaking news tonight, House Democrats releasing brand-new impeachment evidence, what they say is a previously undisclosed letter Rudy Giuliani wrote to the incoming president of Ukraine.

This is dated May 10 last year.

Giuliani writing -- quote -- "I have a specific request. In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you this upcoming Monday or Tuesday. I need no more than half-an-hour of your time. I will be accompanied," he says, by his colleague Victoria Toensing.

He describes her as a distinguished American attorney, very familiar with the matter at hand.

Notice this language -- quote -- "with the president`s knowledge and consent," Giuliani showing that his trip at the time, contemporaneously, as the lawyers would say, was something the president was consenting to, a very critical piece of information in evidence.

And I want to get into all of this right now with former federal prosecutor John Flannery. We should note he once worked directly with Rudy Giuliani in the Southern District of New York.

What do you think is the significance of this brand-new evidence?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, if there was any room for doubt that this was a shakedown by the president and that he was involved, and Rudy was involved, and Rudy`s subalterns, Lev and Igor, were involved, these additional documents put that all to rest.

And, as you said, the one of the most significant things about this letter that you were just reading is that it starts with, "I am private counsel to President Donald Trump," and even suggests that this is out of channels.


MELBER:  Let`s pause on the evidentiary point you`re making.


MELBER:  That, not according to the critics, not according to the observers, but according to the president`s own employee or agent, this was not for the public interests of the United States.


MELBER:  This was not foreign policy for the U.S. This was a personal attorney seeking personal help for the president.

And that brings me to the next thing I want to ask you.


MELBER:  This occurred -- this letter is dated -- and Democrats say it`s real and we will report any contesting we get from the White House, as it`s brand-new.

But if you take this date as real in May, it would suggest that the initial effort in this plot was not for Trump to necessarily have to ask Ukrainian leader on record in front of government officials, but to get Giuliani to do it. And only when that faltered, or didn`t get the result they wanted, did it then go to the July call.


And the context is particularly interesting, because, before this letter in May, you have them getting rid of Yovanovitch in April, so that she`s not in the way to obstruct this corrupt deal that they`re putting together.

And I think you already mentioned in the broadcast that there was a text message or e-mail from Rudy Giuliani, and in that, he`s talking about the anti-Trump people who are around Zelensky that he`s concerned about.

And then when the two subalterns who work for Rudy in this effort to get rid of Yovanovitch are found out and indicted, there`s interesting correspondence, getting permission from the president for John Dowd to represent both of them in the criminal proceeding.

Obviously, that`s changed since. Lev Parnas is represented by a different counsel.

So the thing is as tight as could be in terms of evidence that fills in whatever gaps people have. I would hate to be one of those senators who think they have to lie for the president and vote for him at this upcoming trial with this kind of evidence, yes.


MELBER:  This goes to the factual pattern. Are you claiming that the phone call was -- quote -- "just a phone call," that there wasn`t what lawyers would call a wider alleged conspiracy, or, boom, as more evidence comes out, here it is?

And that brings me to the other big report we had tonight. We led with this breaking news. I got to ask you about the other big thing going on, which is, as the Senate prepares to put Donald Trump on trial, you have the reports about who`s going to defend Trump, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Jay Sekulow, who defended him in the Mueller probe.

"New York Times" reporting Alan Dershowitz might have a role on the team, but this, of course, leaving one big name out in the cold, Rudy Giuliani.

And we should note, before I go back to Mr. Flannery, there are a few reasons to leave Giuliani out. He`s under criminal investigation. There`s the problem that he`s a potential witness about this plot. Even Trump allies admit that. And then there`s the remarkable fact that he`s the first defense lawyer to ever get a presidential client impeached, a twist worth reflecting on.

In fact, we checked, and look how a top Republican put this back in 2018. "If a university had a course and how to create an atmosphere where impeachment becomes plausible, the president would bring in people to do damage control who deliver more damage, which is the outcome of the addition of Rudy Giuliani"

And it`s Giuliani who pushed Ukraine conspiracy theory on Trump and carried out the plot which got Trump impeached. And while some Republicans defend Trump by arguing nothing came of the efforts. Giuliani has been undercutting that defense.

He returned to Ukraine with a camera crew, as we reported. He`s in trouble tonight for his efforts.

So, with all that in mind, look at something else we haven`t had time to mention yet. Consider this new CNN report that now Giuliani is still lobbying the White House to get on the team to defend Trump in the Senate, arguing he knows the case against the president inside out.

Giuliani dying to get in there. To paraphrase John Fogerty, he is pleading with the boss, put me in coach. I`m ready to play today. Look at me. I can be -- you know how it goes -- center field.

Trump`s own allies saying, no way. They don`t trust Giuliani to argue a parking ticket, and others who are saying Giuliani will not -- not be speaking on the Senate floor. They don`t trust him.

They prefer him, Mr. Flannery, back on the bench.

Your view of Giuliani`s now publicly leaked efforts to get a speaking role at the Senate trial that starts as early as Tuesday?

FLANNERY:  Well, I`m torn.

I`d like to recommend that they put them in that position. Some others might prefer my cousin Vinny instead. But I think that Giuliani is in a very peculiar position, because, if you remember his statement about, I have insurance, I wonder how much that insurance is helpful to get him off the bench and on the team and into the room.

I can imagine there are very few Republicans that want him in there who`ve thought about it. But there is one person who might think he should be there.

I mean, after all, Trump has continued to use him even after, as a fixer, he has shown himself not even to be anything like "Michael Clayton," the movie in which we had a real fixer, not like Michael Cohen or like Rudy Giuliani.

And it looks like he does disclose more about what a person has done wrong than defend against it in any fashion that would serve him or serve the president in a trial before the Senate.

I think it`s unlikely he will be there. But we have seen a lot of unlikely things happen in this case.

MELBER:  Yes, the George Clooney Michael Clayton character, he did gamble too much. You don`t necessarily want your counsel to be too into taking big gambles, right, professionally or personally.

I want wonder what you think if we play this out, if we take Giuliani at his word that he is still lobbying to get on the team for this trial next week, that the president for whatever reason, has not cut him loose. I mean, it would have been easier to treat him as Donald Trump has treated many other people, including so-called self-declared fixers.

For whatever reason, Giuliani has stayed in a different category, having gotten the president impeached.

But if he were in this trial, John, how would it then work, when he is the author of this new letter we can put back up on the screen, when his new evidence is that he`s not only defense counsel? I think we will put the new letter that just broke now.

And he`s actually -- as it says here, I`m private counsel to President Trump. And I want to basically, using the privileges of the president and private citizen are not the same. We have separate representation. And he goes on to try to arrange this meeting to get the investigation.

How would that play out if he were also his lawyer in trial?

FLANNERY:  Well, for a lawyer who is a material fact witness and to be an advocate, thereby having that obvious conflict, such a lawyer, under normal ethical circumstances, should not be the advocate in a case.

And, in fact, he might appropriately be, as we have discussed before, a witness in the case, but it`d be a witness who seems to have the kind of evidence that convicts his client or friend or person he represents or the (INAUDIBLE) the warlord that had him doing all these things by this back channel.

So, now, the objections in the Senate, I don`t know that, if I were on the team of the House managers, I would object to him testifying, because there are so many documents that allow you to control anything he would say for a good cross-examiner.

It would be a dream to cross-examine Rudy Giuliani, it seems to me. That`s not true of some people we don`t have information about, and Bolton might be one of those.

But Rudy Giuliani is a witness that I would enjoy cross-examining as a House manager.

MELBER:  Well, John, not everyone has dreams about who they would cross- examine, but that shows you`re still the prosecutor at heart.


MELBER:  I have a 30-second break to fit in.

I appreciate you, as always, on two big stories tonight, John.

FLANNERY:  Thank you.

MELBER:  We turn next to former RNC chair Michael Steele with the new pressure on McConnell.

We`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER:  The news tonight, big picture, is President Trump`s trial will start Tuesday, according to Mitch McConnell.

And key witnesses could actually be called. That`s despite Donald Trump`s efforts to stop that.

Mitch McConnell has the Republican votes counted, and he says they`re not there to toss anything out. McConnell also saying there`s no appetite to dismiss without the actual beginning of arguments.

We have heard other senators on this very program tonight say that`s just another reminder he doesn`t have the votes. And that means there is pressure mounting on some Republicans as this goes forward.

We have several on the record saying the case needs to be heard.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): I would vote against the motion to dismiss. I think we need to hear the case, ask our questions.

And then, as they did in the Clinton impeachment, we ought to decide then whether we need to hear from additional witnesses or need additional documents.

So, to me, the motion to dismiss is not consistent with hearing the case.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME):  I would anticipate voting against a motion to dismiss, as opposed to going through the whole process and then going to final arguments and having a vote on each article of impeachment.


MELBER:  There are several Republicans who are publicly breaking with McConnell. That increases the internal pressure to hear witnesses.

Take a look at one you might recognize.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  I support the Clinton impeachment model,, which is a vote on witnesses later, but as to which witnesses I`d want to hear from and so forth, that`s something which I`m open to until after the opening arguments.


QUESTION:  Including John Bolton?

ROMNEY:  Pardon?

QUESTION:  Including John Bolton?

ROMNEY:  Oh, including John Bolton, yes.

I mean, he is someone who I would like to hear from. And, presumably, I get the chance to vote for that after the opening arguments.


MELBER:  That`s internal pressure for witnesses within the Republican Party.

But there is also on something this high-stakes plenty of external pressure back on the Republican Party.

Take a look how it`s playing on FOX News.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS:  I have no words. I have no words for Mitt Romney. I supported him in 2012.

I mean, like, I like Mitt Romney. I have no words for him, OK, just none -- that I can say on TV.

GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS:  Romney belongs to the Romney party. And that`s about it.

INGRAHAM:  What is this? What is the water in Utah? That`s my question.


MELBER:  I`m joined now by a man who used to run the Republican Party, Chairman Michael Steele.

Good evening, sir.


MELBER:  What`s up? A lot.

We got new evidence.

STEELE:  What is up?

MELBER:  We have Republicans now making some noise. And then you see that pushback.


MELBER:  You know these folks. You ran the party, obviously a bit of a different era, pre-Trump, but walk us through what you think is happening and who will have the lead, if you will, in this debate trying to decide how the trial runs.

STEELE:  Well, I think two things.

One, despite the breast-beating by Republicans that, we have the votes, we have got this on lockdown, and those who at least floated the idea of dismissing this out of hand, they have a new reality.

And on the Democratic side, despite that gnashing of teeth and the nervous Nellies about, oh, my God, is Nancy Pelosi`s strategy going to work, what does it mean, Nancy has played this just right, in my view.

She`s put this thing in play in such a way that she held this up long enough to move the needle inside the Republican Party, because in those districts where those Republicans are facing some real challenges, and have to overcome those challenges, either through a primary or at the ballot box in November, they`re now saying, hey, let`s not dismiss, let`s have a trial. Oh, and by the way, I`m more interested in hearing from witnesses than I was maybe a few weeks ago.

So I think the needle has moved on this. And it`ll be very interesting to see.

I think this gets harder for Republicans in the end, because, once -- if the Democrats prosecute this case appropriately and well, with 71 percent of the American people already clear that they want to see witnesses, Ari, I don`t know how you avoid not calling witnesses in week two or three of this trial.

I just don`t see how you avoid it, if this is done right, and the case is made in such a way that you need to have those witnesses to fill in and answer the questions that will clearly rise from this.

MELBER:  The way you break it down is with, if I may, Mr. Chairman...


MELBER:  ... with fluidity, which is so often lacking in some of what we see in the Beltway punditry, because what you`re saying is it`s really not possible to analyze where the Senate is and where these -- some of these key Republicans are on day one, because, once the trial starts, and it`s day after day after day, then the country, including their base, is bought into, oh, this is happening.


MELBER:  And then you say, if you cut that off with no witnesses, are there a reasonable number of people in any given state who go, wait a minute, after all that, you didn`t have witnesses? That looks weird.

And I take that point back to you with the pressure on Senator Gardner in a swing state with an attack that people are talking about. Take a look.


NARRATOR:  The only thing you will fight for is Trump. You`re just another Trump servant, weak, frightened, impotent, a small man terrified of a political bully, so scared of his tweets, you will do anything Trump orders, blocking witnesses, stonewalling to keep Trump`s corruption secret, breaking your oath to follow the Constitution and the law.

Putting Trump over Colorado every time.



MELBER:  ... as they say.

STEELE:  I can tell you, Ari...

MELBER:  What do you think?

STEELE:  Yes, that`s a wow.

And I can tell you, the last thing any elected official -- I don`t care if he`s dogcatcher. The last thing he wants to be known as among his constituents, as impotent. I mean, the connotations from that are massive.

And I think for -- you take that ad and you duplicate it in other districts, other states, rather, it becomes a real problem for Republicans to hold the lines that we`re going to go through this thing and pretend that there`s no evidence that requires anyone to come in and testify as a witness.

And here`s the other piece of it. At some point, the president`s own team has to say, dude, we got to get somebody in here to justify this. It will not be enough for the Republicans to hold that line because of ads like this. That pressure is going to build.

And so there may be either capitulation from Republicans at some point, for sure. But I think, definitely, if the Democrats do this thing right, they can really move the needle in terms of getting witnesses to come testify, and not just John Bolton, the chief of staff, the secretary of state and others.

MELBER:  Well, you break it down so well, and it really goes to what the public is expecting.

Every impeachment trial historically, we have reported, has included witnesses. Trials include witnesses. People have seen "My Cousin Vinny." They have seen "Law & Order."

STEELE:  That`s right.

MELBER:  They have seen "A Few Good Men."

And if it looks like, instead of a trial, they got speeches and then a controversial vote to stop, it actually raises the question, was there even a trial?

I leave that existential question with you, because I`m going to bring you back on another big story tonight. So, stay with me.

STEELE:  You got it.

MELBER:  Coming up, the alarm sounding, as Putin hackers are going after a Trump rival, brand-new, and how it plays into impeachment.

And, later, Dave Chappelle has just endorsed a 2020 Democrat. We will tell you who with that story later tonight.


MELBER:  Turning to a whole `nother story tonight, Russian hackers appear to be now targeting Donald Trump`s potential opponent in the 2020 election.

This is a new effort that echoes some of the hallmarks of the 2016 e-mail hacks that also targeted Democrats. And it`s reportedly conducted by the same Russian military group that attacked Hillary Clinton.

Experts say this is the first public confirmation of Russia targeting the 2020 candidates, coming after Trump publicly asked foreign governments to go after his rivals, and specifically Joe Biden`s dealings in Ukraine.

So keep that in mind with what we`re about to show you, Trump`s attorney general now saying there will be no intel investigations opened into presidential campaigns without his sign-off, a comment which makes waves as you look at the other thing we`re about to show you, Democrats saying these new hacks are literally what Mueller warned about after investigating the 2016 campaign.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  One of the things that we have agreed on is that the opening of a counterintelligence investigation of a presidential campaign would be something that the director of the FBI would have to sign off on and the attorney general would have to sign off on.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  It would not at all surprise me. This is indeed exactly what Bob Mueller warned about in his testimony, that the Russians would be at this again.

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL:  It wasn`t a single attempt. They`re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.


MELBER:  This is the next campaign.

The new hack picks up on Trump`s fixation on Hunter Biden`s work involving Ukraine, Russians hacking and targeting the companies that he worked for now at the center of impeachment.

This reporting is sourced to a tech firm detailing how the hackers used trick e-mails that appear authentic to steal the credentials of those employees. And in the spirit of fake news, here is the Web site of one of these Ukrainian companies on your screen. This is linked to Biden.

The Russians apparently creating a copycat Web site that looks so similar, it tricked the company`s own employees. Now, it`s not yet known if these hackers obtained anything valuable or, if so, how they might use or release it.

Joining me now on the technology with serious expertise is "Wired`s" Andy Greenberg. He has written the article, "If Russia Hacked Burisma, Brace for the Leaks That Follow."

And, of course, back with me on the politics and how this affects campaigns, our veteran Michael Steele.

Good to see you both.

Andy, you look at this kind of reporting. Some people go, oh, this is happening again? Is it still going to work?

What do we know? And is there anything that the civil society, not pro or anti any candidate, but civil society, can do to inoculate against this being damaging?

ANDY GREENBERG, SENIOR WRITER, "WIRED":  Well, I think, off the top, we need to say that the evidence that Russia, and specifically the GRU, this Russian military intelligence agency, that that agency specifically hacked Burisma, it`s still a little bit thin.

I would say that it`s sort of at the level of the criminal leaving a certain brand of glove at the crime scene, but not their fingerprints. But we can imagine that the notion that Russia would be hacking Burisma is the most likely thing in the world just because of the history of Russia`s obsession with hacking Ukraine in every way imaginable, and their goal likely of finding any speck of dirt on Biden they can use here.

When they do if, in fact, they have hacked Burisma, and they come out with the inevitable leaks in this hacking and leaking operation, like we saw in 2016, then I think we need to think as a society about how do we in the media in particular handle those leaks.

Do we publish information that we know came from a state intelligence agency that is intended to harm a rival of Donald Trump?

MELBER:  Or, if I may -- and I mean it good in good fun -- do we go beyond rhetorical questions?

GREENBERG:  Well, I think...

MELBER:  I feel like you`re gesturing at the idea that that stuff needs to stop, or at least be done more carefully.

GREENBERG:  I would not say necessarily that, in a free society, with the First Amendment, we should tell reporters not to report on something that is real.

But that is the question. Are these documents going to be real? Because we have seen...

MELBER:  Well, let me push. I`m going to push you again. I don`t know that it has to be a binary between telling the press what to do or not.

I certainly wouldn`t suggest the government has much of a role in that in America. But what about the role of context and telling folks, here`s this foreign effort to discredit someone? That`s a big story. And if and when little pieces of it, when authenticated or newsworthy, they may come out, but within that context.

GREENBERG:  I think the first step is to authenticate, because they`re very likely will be false documents, subtle forgeries, as well as wholly fabricated documents, in here.

But then there will be real ones too. And I think you`re right that the answer is, the press can publish those significant things, but we need to make clear that the source has an agenda here, a very clear one, to hurt a rival of Donald Trump.

MELBER:  Michael Steele, how do you look at this at the practical level of campaigns?

Let me ask you the political question which is relevant, even if people wish it wasn`t, and that is, has Joe Biden been hurt or helped by this endless discussion of his son`s employment, and what do you think about this news?

STEELE:  I think it`s probably almost a wash. I mean, I think people expected him to say more and perhaps do more, certainly in the early stages of this story, and they didn`t.

They just kind of...


MELBER:  I`m just going to press you. I pressed Andy a little. So, hey, it`s good for the goose.

STEELE:  Sure.

MELBER:  You don`t think it has been a net negative for him in the primary to have all this stuff circulating around?

STEELE:  No, no, because I think, in many respects, people got the storyline and understood that there was no corruption or crime committed here.

There wasn`t anything that rose to that -- to that level. And I think that`s a very important part, because, as was reported at the time this news was breaking, that there had already been several investigations done in which there was found no harm, no foul.

Yes, did it pass the smell test? No, not necessarily. But in terms of criminality, in terms of outright corruption, at the level we`re talking about with the president`s trying to create an influential situation, that was not the Biden storyline.

So I think a lot of Americans sort of baked that in.

And to Andy`s point about where this story goes once the documents, if the documents are released, I think it`s important to understand that, because of those earlier investigations and the review of, I guess, documents at that time, to not -- found a smoking gun or something that would be so damaging and so incriminating then, then suddenly, six months before a general election, if Joe Biden is the nominee, for example, to have that document surface, you have got to raise a huge red flag of suspicion about its origins and its authenticity.

MELBER:  Andy, this is all happening against the backdrop of a president being impeached and now facing trial for directly asking for foreign governments to help go after his rivals.

It`s not even really in dispute, because he came out on the White House lawn and doubled down on it. What does that do to the U.S. efforts to stop this, no matter who it attacks, if you try to leave politics out of it?

GREENBERG:  Well, I think, to your point, maybe this hacking effort, according to the Area 1`s report, began in November, just as this controversy about Burisma was coming to light.

The fact that the president has now been impeached may actually changed the agenda of these hackers. They may, in fact, not want to make a big splash with bunch of numerous documents and bring more attention to this controversy that at its heart is an impeachment inquiry.

MELBER:  Is part of your point that overreacting to this can be as problematic as just marking it and moving on?

GREENBERG:  Well, Russians hack everything in Ukraine. Russians have caused blackouts in Ukraine. They have released the most destructive worm in history in Ukraine.

There`s -- it`s really actually quite an surprising event that they would have Burisma. What they do with it, that is still to be seen.

MELBER:  It almost seems like you`re saying, it`s worse than you think, but chill.

GREENBERG:  Well, if you`re a Ukrainian, I think this is kind of a very dog bites man sort of story.

MELBER:  How about that?

See, Michael, we get all kinds of views here, and Andy has given me some stuff to think about it.

I think you certainly make an important point, which is, the effort sometimes to look at this only to an American political prism misses out on the majority of what`s going on worldwide.


MELBER:  Really interesting from both you, Andy and Michael. Thank you.

STEELE:  You bet.

MELBER:  Appreciate it.

Up ahead, Dave Chappelle just weighed in tonight on the 2020 Democratic primary. We will tell you who he`s backing.


MELBER:  Now to a very big cultural endorsement that we have been telling you we would bring you tonight.

The famed comedian Dave Chappelle, who is no stranger to politics, has announced he is endorsing the Yang presidential campaign.

A short press release that states -- quote -- "I`m Yang Gang."

And we have a photo of Dave with Andrew Yang shaking hands, all smiles you see there.

Yang also tweeting out his thanks -- quote -- "You are the best. Let`s do this for our kids."

Chappelle will also be campaigning for Yang later this month. He`s going to appear in the key primary state of South Carolina, which is early in the calendar.

Now, we don`t know if Chappelle will get into any impersonations or even of his new support -- as the person he`s supporting, Mr. Yang.

But I did want to show you, as you may already know, he is no stranger to political impersonations.


DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN:  U.N., you have problem with that, you know what you should do? You should sanction me.

Sanction me with your army. Oh, wait a minute. You don`t have an army.


CHAPPELLE:  We`re going to go to Oregon. We`re going to go to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. We`re going to Cancun for spring break.


CHAPPELLE:  We`re going to go to Montreal. We`re going to Vancouver. I`m going all over the world.

And then I`m coming all the way to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House. Yeah!



MELBER:  From Bush to Dean to Yang.

We will see if that comes up as well in tonight`s debate.

And we will be back on THE BEAT right now with one more thing.


MELBER:  We have been reporting on this newly disclosed letter from May 2019, where Rudy Giuliani is trying to contact the incoming leader of Ukraine and explain specifically he`s doing so in his capacity as personal counsel to President Trump, with his knowledge and consent, and goes on to request this key meeting.

This was before the infamous July call.

And this is important, because remember what Donald Trump himself said that conflicts with this.

Take a listen.


BILL O`REILLY, FORMER HOST, "THE O`REILLY FACTOR":  What was Rudy Giuliani doing in Ukraine on your behalf?

TRUMP:  Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy, I don`t even know -- I know he was going to go to Ukraine, and I think he canceled the trip.

But Rudy has other clients other than me. I`m one.

O`REILLY: So, you didn`t -- you didn`t direct him to go there on your behalf? You didn`t...



MELBER:  When the client and the lawyer don`t agree, you may need a witness. And when that client is the president, well, it goes to this witness fight at the coming Senate trial.

We will stay on all of it.

But don`t go anywhere right now. "HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS" starts now.