IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

2020 Dem Race TRANSCRIPT: 2/13/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Debbie Harry, Donald Ayer


Good evening, Ari. Right on time.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  There we go. Good evening, Chuck.

And we begin with breaking news, Bill Barr rebuking Trump.

Major news here from what can only be described now as a besieged attorney general of the United States.

Bill Barr for the first time now -- and you may have heard this just briefly -- it broke as we were coming on the air -- he is claiming to disagree with President Trump, but let me get into it.

This is a rare new interview, and it comes as the embattled attorney general is taking heat for siding with Trump in this very controversial way, politically intervening in the case of convicted Trump aide Roger Stone, and, many say, blatantly politicizing the Department of Justice.

Now, we`re going to break down exactly what Barr is doing and why you can`t really take it at face value. I will show you the evidence.

Now, let`s take a look here at Mr. Barr claiming that what you need to focus on are the words.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  Public statements and tweets made about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job.


MELBER:  That`s the attorney general United States appearing to criticize his boss, something Mr. Barr almost never does.

And I can tell you, we have never seen him do anything like this on this high-stakes of an issue, Donald Trump`s own convicted aide Roger Stone.

Saying that the president of the United States makes it impossible for you to do your job sounds like criticism, and we`re going to get into all of it.

But then watch as Barr claims that basically the noise the president makes undercuts him.


BARR:  And I`m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody, and I said at the time, whether it`s Congress, a newspaper, editorial boards, or the president.

I`m going to do what I think is right. And the -- I think the -- I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.


MELBER:  Now, the question is, what is Mr. Barr doing right now?

It`s pretty clear that he`s responding to what has been widespread condemnation, including from legal conservatives, after getting scorched by even his own allies.

Take fellow Republican veterans of the Justice Department, President George W. Bush`s Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who`s previously defended Barr, but is now calling on him to outright quit unless he can better prevent and resist Donald Trump`s politicized commands to the Justice Department.

I add on top of that Democratic leaders blasting Mr. Barr for meddling in the Stone case, condemning Donald Trump`s attacks on the judge who will ultimately sent in Stone.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  A.G. Barr has deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing the DOJ sentencing recommendation. What a sad disappointment to our country.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  The nation now looks again to Chief Justice Roberts to make clear to President Trump that these attacks are unacceptable.


MELBER:  That`s just some of the condemnation from top Democrats.

And let`s be clear. Mr. Barr tonight has not changed a thing about the intervention in Roger Stone`s case. He has not changed the result. He has not changed the substance. It is newsworthy, to be sure, that he`s criticizing Donald Trump at all, but he`s only doing so about the tweets.

You might paraphrase Attorney General Barr tonight as saying, basically, I stand by all the political intervention in the Justice Department that even my own conservative colleagues say is wrong. I just wish Donald Trump wasn`t tweeting about what we were up to.

And let`s go wider on the historical context. Donald Trump infamously said he wanted a Roy Cohn at his Justice Department. That is the disgraced and ultimately disbarred mafia lawyer so known for breaking rules.

And critics say that`s what he`s now getting with Bill Barr, who`s clearly interfering to change the criminal case, the way this will be resolved, of one of Donald Trump`s closest allies. It`s not even debatable that what he`s doing cuts against all rules, norms and requirements at the Justice Department.

And, for that, I give you Bill Barr in 2001 explaining the Justice Department is special and different. You don`t mess around with it. You don`t intervene. You don`t interfere. Bill

Barr has been busted, according to many experts and critics, for messing around, intervening and interfering.

And here`s the bottom line on the substance. Barr`s position remains the same: siding with Trump, protecting a Trump aide, intervening to the degree that these prosecutors quit in apparent protest.

The Donald Trump-DOJ plot is being supported widely by Mr. Barr. Now, though, under pressure, he has to do something. So, to save himself, he is trying to argue the problem is the tweets.

But don`t lose your eye on the ball of what`s actually happening, Barr backing the same results. I can`t say that enough, because that`s what this is all about.

Now, we begin with former federal prosecutor Maya Wiley, who worked at the Southern District of New York.

We have some other special guests, but I wanted to speak with you first, because, as is so often the case trying to cover these stories, both things can be true. It strikes me as newsworthy that Mr. Barr is trying to make it appear that he`s criticizing his boss, President Trump, which he almost never does.

And yet I put the first question to you on the substance, which we like to focus on here. Does any of this change Mr. Barr`s approach to intervening in the Stone case?


MELBER:  Nope.

WILEY:  Nope.

Look, what`s clear here -- and I think he said it and I will say it even a little more pointedly -- Bill Barr is battling blame, but he`s not battling for justice.

I mean, remember that we`re talking about Roger Stone, who not only lied under oath. He threatened a witness. So, he intervenes in what line attorneys, the attorneys who had handled the case from beginning to end, assessed in terms of what they thought Roger Stone deserved.

But now Donald Trump tweets, and Bill Barr says, oh, well, I didn`t hear the tweets. I mean, I -- the tweet came after we had already made the decision to intervene.

And the question becomes, well, why now is the tweeting so bad? Because Donald Trump tweeted when Roger Stone was on trial, and I don`t recall Bill Barr being upset about that. And we have had a number of tweets from Donald Trump that I don`t recall Bill Barr being upset about.

MELBER:  Let`s pause on that. You make such a great point.

We laid out some of the issues, but your point is something we hadn`t gotten into our setup there, which is there`s nothing new about Donald Trump rage-tweeting in ways that can undermine the rule of law. This, you`re pointing out, is something where Mr. Barr, who`s a very smart person -- his critics call him diabolical. But he`s very smart.

He sat down in the middle of this pickle, and brainstormed all these things. And this is the best thing a smart person could come up with, which, as you point out, anyone who follows the news knows this ain`t new.

WILEY:  It ain`t new. It`s not even new for him to attack the Justice Department by tweet.

And Bill Barr didn`t stand up for the FBI when he -- or, frankly, for Robert Mueller, when he said, yes, I can understand why Donald Trump is tweeting that it`s a witch-hunt. And he certainly didn`t stand up for the FBI. And he certainly, certainly did stand up for conspiracy theories when Donald Trump was tweeting his conspiracy theories.

MELBER:  So, let`s dig in deeper. I`m so glad you`re our guest to kick this off.

Mr. Barr said something in his confirmation hearing under oath that, to us the Nixonian reference now, would be inoperative, because he claimed he had no pressure from the president to make any political allegiances, to do the kind of meddling that he is now, the DOJ is literally accused of doing.

So this is inoperative, but it`s important because the tweet, if anything, bothers people who say, oh, now we`re busted, because, if it`s private, you can debate it. It`s public. Everyone saw that he demanded special treatment for his friend Roger Stone, who`s a convicted felon now.

Look at Mr. Barr in the confirmation hearing.


BARR:  President Trump has sought no assurances, promises or commitments from me of any kind, either express or implied, and I have not given him any.

My allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American people.


WILEY:  So, the only thing I have to say to that is Senator Kamala Harris.

When she asked him, has anyone from the White House asked you to open investigations or start investigations, she -- the word suggest came up, and Bill Barr said, I`m struggling with the word suggest, a really difficult word for a very intelligent person to define, suggest.

So I think what we know is, he says what he needs to say when he needs to say it to help himself or Donald Trump. And, today, it`s himself.

MELBER:  Really, really important. And, as a prosecutor who I know cares about the rule on these issues, whichever way they break politically, I`m glad to have you.

I want you to stick around with me, but I have a very special guest that I`m going to turn to now, which is Donald Ayer.

He`s known Bill Barr for more than four decades, worked with him at the Justice Department, preceded him as deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.

We are especially excited when we have seasoned veterans around. And you`re one of them. Thanks for being on THE BEAT tonight.


MELBER:  On the substance, what do you think of what Mr. Barr is saying today and what he is at the same time doing in this case that touches so closely to the president?

AYER:  Well, I think the two of you have really nailed the point that nothing he said today changes anything.

And I think, really, what we need to do is take a couple of steps back and focus not just on the most recent event, which is bad enough, but to focus on the whole pattern of events that he`s engaged in since he became -- came in as attorney general, I notice we`re coming up, I think, tomorrow on the anniversary of his term as attorney general.

And this is probably one of the worst examples of interfering in an inappropriate way, by clearly taking action out of the regular course of the routine and the process that the department follows.

But, if you go back, we all remember...


AYER:  I`m sorry.

MELBER:  Let me ask about that for your -- for preference, just for preference and context.

You`re saying this is one of the worst examples. As mentioned, you served at a high level in the Bush Sr. administration. Do you see this is worse than any meddling that was exposed in the last, say, two or three administrations?

When you say worse, help us understand what you mean.

AYER:  Well, I -- what I`m focused on really is the whole pattern of conduct that he`s engaged in since he came in.

And it`s a whole pattern of things that involves intervening out of the usual course, in order to protect Donald Trump. And the first example that we all remember was when he went before -- he wrote the letter and went before the cameras to say that the Mueller report didn`t have any evidence of obstruction or didn`t show a persuasive case of obstruction.

And that was his publicity of it. But then what came out in the ensuing days and when people saw the report, indeed, it contained powerful evidence.

We heard his comments effectively trying to overrule the decision of the inspector general, Horowitz, who looked into the FBI investigation, and he found that it was properly predicated and then there was no bias.

And, immediately, Bill Barr and then his appointed prosecutor, Mr. Durham, come out and say, we disagree with that.

We have the whole pattern of his conduct commenting on the FBI spying back before the investigation had been consummated.

MELBER:  Well, let me play -- since you mention that, let me play some of the spying and the other comments he`s made against the backdrop of him knowing better, his own statement that you don`t do this.

Take a look.


BARR:  I think there -- spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

It is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and undermining the rule of law.

The evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.


MELBER:  When you look at all that, and he should know better, given his experience, what do you make of what Mr. Barr is doing? And do you think he is still fit for this office?

AYER:  I don`t think he`s fit for the office, because I think what he`s done is to undertake a campaign essentially to undermine the Department of Justice as it was reformed and as we have all lived with it for the last 45 years, and it reformed following Watergate, when -- and at that time, Edward Levi, the attorney general, essentially kind of gave instructions and thought through the process by which the Justice Department, given the power that it has, needs to bend over backwards to establish public trust in what it`s doing.

And so you have the processes that involve complete separation of political forces from the decisions made in the department, certainly in the criminal area. You have processes of review, where I think, as was true with these sentencing recommendations, they went up through a process in the department, and they went forward.

They followed the guidelines. They were -- whatever one thinks of them, as they`re heavy or not heavy, they were the product of a process that relied upon the guidelines which were put in place in order to try to make sentencing fair and uniform.

And all of that got reviewed, and, all of a sudden, at the time the president speaks up, Mr. Barr steps in.

The problem is that we`re losing an ability to have confidence that the department is not going to be influenced by improper forces.

MELBER:  Yes. Yes.

AYER:  And when you think about someone goes easy on someone because they`re the president`s friend, well, what about the problem of going hard on someone because they`re his enemy?

MELBER:  Right.

AYER:  And then you really see the problem.

MELBER:  And then what happens in the backdrop of the president having publicly demanded investigations of his rivals, and where is democracy at, and who`s going to speak up?

And you, being someone to worked with Mr. Barr, who I mentioned worked in the Bush Justice Department, we appreciate your straightforward analysis tonight.

Donald Ayer, thank you, sir.


MELBER:  I`m going to bring back in Maya Wiley just briefly.

We`re running over on time, my producers tell me, but I want to hear your reaction, briefly.

Mr. Ayer has known Barr a long time. It`s always hard to go at the people that you were professional colleagues with, maybe friends with.

What do you make of him, as a former Bush DOJ official, saying what he just said?

WILEY:  I think it speaks to the danger of the times we`re in, and that -- I think what was so important about what Mr. Ayer said -- and I completely agree with this -- when justice isn`t blind, it`s broken.

And Bill Barr is helping to break it.

MELBER:  Maya Wiley gets the last word in this segment.

Thank you.

Thanks to Mr. Ayer.

Coming up, we have a former White House aide blasting Donald Trump`s purge and the illegal order in Ukraine, interesting coming from, again, another Trump aide.

Later tonight, I have a special report on keys to understanding the next debate and why there is so much intrigue about what the Democratic Party is doing.

And what Donald Trump told us, including me and my colleague Hallie Jackson, the very night Justice Scalia died. It was four years ago today. We`re going to show that to you, because it matters.

And, later, a special conversation tonight. I am joined by my colleague Chris Matthews and the legendary Debbie Harry from Blondie for a very special conversation that we think will be great right here on THE BEAT.

Please stay with us.


MELBER:  Breaking news tonight:  Attorney General Bill Barr standing by his intervention to help Roger Stone, while also criticizing Donald Trump`s tweets.

He claims that Donald Trump has made it impossible for him to do his job.

And this comes as Donald Trump, of course, has been successful in getting the DOJ to help Roger Stone, and it`s been sparking those protest resignations from prosecutors.

Donald Trump discussing it today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don`t think they quit the case.

I think what they do is, they felt they got caught, you want to know the truth? I don`t think they quit for moral reasons. I think they got caught in the act by me.


MELBER:  Now, "New York Times" also reporting federal prosecutors concerned about where this all goes.

Trump has also attacked a Roger Stone juror that`s an American citizen, alleging, without evidence, significant bias. She had simply said in public that she thought the prosecutors who Attorney General Barr overruled had acted with integrity.

I want to bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson from "The Washington Post."

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER:  We heard from very seasoned lawyers first and went through the law.

For the bigger picture, we turn to you, because this is both about the Justice Department, but it`s also, after impeachment, after Senate acquittal, it`s about what`s happening in Trump`s America.

Your view, big picture, sir?

ROBINSON:  Well, so, Attorney General Barr`s statements today -- this administration and this president operate in really -- in two different realms, right?

There`s the universe of reality. And you and your esteemed panel of lawyers are absolutely right to point out that nothing Barr said today changes what he did. He did not recommend that all the sentencing guidelines be changed nationwide for the crimes that Roger Stone was convicted of by a jury.

MELBER:  Right.

ROBINSON:  He didn`t do that. He recommended that a lighter sentence be given to Donald Trump`s longtime friend and crony. And that`s what -- and that`s the reality.

But there`s also the universe of reality television. And in that universe, which President Trump cares a lot about, it is not done that somebody who worked for President Trump publicly in a television interview calls him out and says, stop doing this. You are making it impossible for me to do my job, which basically sounds like a threat:  Look, you keep doing this, I`m going to quit.

Trump has never reacted well to that sort of chastisement in public, especially on television. And so it will be fascinating to see.

MELBER:  Right.

ROBINSON:  I know that there`s an anodyne statement that`s out from Stephanie Grisham at the White House basically saying, well, of course, the president wasn`t bothered.

But I can`t -- I don`t believe that.

MELBER:  Well, you nailed it. You nailed it.

The publicist statement here doesn`t matter. As you say -- and we have tried to lead with the substance -- and to echo you, Eugene, Bill Barr didn`t come out and say, well, since we went lighter on Roger Stone, we`re going to change the sentencing requirements and how they affect poor people and black or brown people who are disproportionately hit with heavy sentences around the country.

Or we`re going to actually look again at the Stone case and maybe not intervene the way we did, because we have been blasted so much.

He didn`t do anything substantive. But, as you say, even non-substantive public criticism of this president, he has not shown an ability to handle it.

And I want to play something really interesting also for your big picture reaction, which is an interview that`s gotten less attention, where Donald Trump muses about the difference between Sessions and Barr, saying this, of course, before the public criticism today.

Take a listen to this Trump interview.


TRUMP:  And my life would have been a lot easier, but I might have been less popular, because they say they liked that I fought it. They liked that I won.

They like that -- my base is much more energized.

Bill Barr is a very good man doing a very good job. But my life would have been much easier. There`s no question about it.


MELBER:  Gene?


ROBINSON:  Well, his life would have been easier, but the country would have been in, I believe, great peril, because -- look, I was foreign correspondent for "The Post."

I covered South America at a time when big nations down there were just coming back from military dictatorship, trying to reestablish democracy.

And one of the big problems was that justice was perceived as being politicized. And once you lose faith in blind justice, it`s very, very hard to get it back.

And what it gives rise to, it`s like a corrosive, corrupting influence on the whole society. It encourages conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking. It makes everybody think, gee, I should be on the take. I should be taking -- cutting every corner and getting every advantage, because that`s the way the world works, when you don`t have a justice system that you can have faith in.

And, believe me, we do not want to go down that path. And we are closer to going down that path than in my lifetime. And it really, really worries me.

MELBER:  You just said in your lifetime.

We heard from Mr. Ayer earlier in the show, who knows Barr and served in the Justice Department, talking about some of the worst stuff he`s seen in his lifetime in his service.

It is striking and at least important to shine a light.

Gene Robinson, thank you, as always.

When we`re back in 30 seconds, I have a special report, with our new information that you`re going to want to see, we think, about this upcoming debate and heat on the Democratic Party.


MELBER:  Welcome back.

And now to something different, our special report tonight on developments that could shape who is the ultimate Democratic nominee to run against Trump.

So, how many people actually have been running for this Democratic presidential nomination? About 28, if you count them all up, but it does feel like the number of contenders is fewer.

And that`s because, even before these first votes have started being cast, voters often see the real contender candidates as those who make the debate stage.

And that makes sense. If you`re not top seven, say, in last week`s debate, how seriously should voters take you?

And that number has just fallen to six since even that debate on Friday, with Andrew Yang dropping out.

In fact, even if you`re pretty well known or have a lot of money, making the debate stage can make a big difference. Billionaire Ross Perot said he didn`t initially care much about debates, but being on that stage with both parties` nominees, it made all the difference for his insurgent campaign.


LARRY KING, CNN:  You think you will be included in the debates?


KING:  Care less?


KING:  Wouldn`t you want to be in the debates?

PEROT:  Oh, I`d love to if it`s a real debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The start of the debates next weekend. Ross Perot has been invited to join in.

KING:  Why should you have been in this debate if you`re running only 5 percent in the polls?

PEROT:  Because we met all of the objective criteria of the debate commission. We were in the campaign last time, and we were included in the debates.


MELBER:  So what makes the objective criteria?

Well, in the primaries, the party decides. So, while different media outlets rotate in broadcasting these debates, it is only the Democratic Party that sets the criteria for who`s in them.

And these can be make or break. This cycle, the DNC made rules requiring candidates must meet a polling threshold, or draw grassroots fund-raising from 65,000 people.

Now, why make those donations a requirement at all? Well, the DNC chairman, Tom Perez, said last year the requirement tests candidates on proving their national appeal as an opportunity for people who don`t have the national name I.D. to get on the debate stage.

He went on, if you want to win the presidency, you have got to connect with grassroots America. Here is how Perez pitched it:


TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Eighteen months out from an election, if the only pathway to a debate stage is polling, we thought that that was potentially unfair.

And so I think the grassroots fund-raising pathway is a very viable pathway, and it`s important to empower the grassroots.


MELBER:  All right, the DNC says that rule empowers the grassroots through small donations. And it`s not like millionaire bundling here.

We know, in the past, candidates like Barack Obama showed early enthusiasm with those grassroots donations. Now, some candidates obviously do better than others under this year`s rules. Cory Booker found himself boxed out of a looming debate because he couldn`t meet all the DNC requirements.

His campaign argued those requirements from the DNC quickened him leaving the race. Now, Chairman Perez pushed back. He said earlier that he was a fan of Booker, but if voters are disappointed Booker hasn`t qualified, then, when they answer the phone to pollsters, they need to express their preference for Booker.

OK, those are the rules.

And we all know, from candidates to athletes, the people who are losing often complain more about the rules or the calls on the field.

But here`s why I`m telling you all this tonight. This is super important. The story tonight is about whether it is fair for the Democratic Party to change the rules of the middle of the game.

Real question:  Is it fair to change in the middle?

Now, before anyone decides who this rule change helps or who it might hurt, let`s answer that question.

No, it`s not fair to change the rules in the middle. And that would be true if it was the government changing the voting laws in the middle, or either political party or any party in the middle of a primary.

And I think that`s obviously pretty clear, from a position of fairness, before you get to the concerns from some about the Democratic Party`s approach to Iowa or the 2016 primary or anything else.

But here we are, in the middle of the heart of this primary now, after campaigns built strategies trying to make the debate stage under the rules, and plenty of qualified candidates, as you know, have dropped out.

Now the DNC is changing the rules for making the coveted debate stage, completely eliminating the requirement that candidates must have received donations from hundreds of thousands of people.

And the new rules say candidates can now make the debate stage by meeting thresholds for delegates or polling. New rules. Middle of the game.

Now, Democrats who love one candidate may only be interested in how this affects that person. This is still politics, team sport. Who are you rooting for?

But I`m also telling you tonight this is a larger democracy question for a Democratic Party which says, in its platform and in its campaigning this year, that it stands for transparency and voting rights and fairness.

So what is the impact? Well, so far, five candidates qualify for this next debate, and here they are. Only three of them, by the way, have passed that polling requirement. But by eliminating the grassroots donor requirement, the DNC is opening up a lane for a sixth candidate.

And he is a big one, former Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and his self- funded campaign. Now, under the original rules, a self-funder wouldn`t make this debate. But now Bloomberg could make future Democratic debates.

It`s early. He hasn`t yet qualified, but he`s actually getting close. He needs one more poll to put him at 10 percent. And the DNC is now catching fire, and not just from I would call it people who didn`t make the debate.

You`re going to hear criticism from Democrats who qualified for the debate and some who have not.


TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So, instead of trying to get a more diverse group of candidates, they changed the rules for Michael Bloomberg.

And that just seems to me to be wrong.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The DNC holding their own pre-primary process deciding which candidates they want voters to hear from, and then changing the rules for a billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, to come in and take the debate stage.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He`s worth $55 billion. And I guess, if you`re worth $55 billion, you can get the rules changed for debate.


MELBER:  So, here`s what we know. The DNC made debate rules and stood by them even as they helped potentially eliminate some of the top Democratic candidates, U.S. senators.

The DNC said those rules were fair because they tested grassroots support. Then the DNC changed the rules midstream in a way that can only add one particular candidate to the debates.

Now, I will tell you what the DNC says about this. They defend this, arguing that: "The donor threshold was appropriate for the opening stages of the race, when there were no metrics available outside of polling, to distinguish those making progress from those who are not."

But if that was the whole story, the DNC could have factored all of that into the original rules. And it is hard to see why polling should count more now, after this voting started, than it did before.

Now, I want to be very clear and fair about this. Nobody knows how this will all play out. I have heard from operatives who are saying that Bloomberg is doing well without being in the debates, where, on that stage, there could be more incoming fire.

And we have heard from other operatives who say, if Mike Bloomberg does want to really win the party nomination, then he has to eventually be on that debate stage to be seen as a finalist, so this could help him.

But either way -- and this is what I plead for everyone to keep an eye on - - we are living through a time when our democracy is being tested. No party is immune from scrutiny and vetting for fairness.

And as for Democratic Party Chairman Perez, the question is simple. Is it fair and transparent to change the rules midstream? No.

Just ask Tom Perez. Here he was in January:


PEREZ:  We made the rules. They were very transparent. They`re very inclusive, and we can`t change the rules midstream because there`s a candidate that I wish were on, but didn`t make the debate stage.




SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME):  I believe that the president has learned from this case.

QUESTION:  What do you believe the president has learned?

COLLINS:  The president has been impeached. That`s a pretty big lesson.


MELBER:  Republican Senator Susan Collins -- that was just last week -- arguing Trump has learned his lessons.

Here is what the president just said about that.


QUESTION:  What lesson did you learn from impeachment?

TRUMP:  That the Democrats are crooked, they have got a lot of crooked things going, that they`re vicious, that they shouldn`t have brought impeachment.


MELBER:  We turn now to former Republican Party Chairman and MSNBC analyst Michael Steele.


MELBER:  Learning lessons, sir. Take it away.


STEELE:  Yes, the president hasn`t learned jack.


STEELE:  Where these people get this stuff.

I mean, Donald Trump has never exhibited any behavior that would indicate that he would learn from anything anyone else had to say or do. He is his own enterprise. And he knew from the beginning how he wanted this to play out, Ari.

He`s played it out that way, with the help of a very malleable Republican Senate and with Democrats who made missteps along the way.

And so the lesson that has to be learned for the rest of us -- it`s not about teaching Donald Trump anything -- is, what do we learn from this as we get ready for the next seven months of this campaign? What do we learn?

MELBER:  You just -- wow. I feel that. I didn`t know what you were going to say. But I feel what you`re saying.

It`s very KRS-One. You must learn.

And if the president won`t learn, then you`re arguing very clearly we need to take, in your view, Senator Collins` bizarre ideas about him and apply it to the body politic and the society.


MELBER:  How do you do that?

STEELE:  Well, you do it in a number of ways, one, just by using your own eyes and ears, and then applying your brain cells to what you see and you hear.

And then, gosh, there`s a process there where the rest of those things that your mama taught you to kick in, and you go, well, that`s just not good behavior. That`s not something I want my children to learn. This is not the way our government should run. Right.


MELBER:  You`re saying cognitive thinking. I got it from my mama.

STEELE:  Oh, gosh. Yes, what a concept.

MELBER:  I like it.


MELBER:  Let me show you the pushback that another Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, is getting.

We dug this up.

STEELE:  All right. 

MELBER:  I don`t think it`s gotten much attention, but our BEAT team found a lot of letters to the editor in Alaska, which is a known conservative state, complaining in "The Anchorage Daily News" about people like Senator Murkowski who are forever tainted as a traitor to the Constitution. They should find something else to do.

Others saying, in straight-up, straightforward Alaska language: "God help our nation for this lack of moral courage."

What do you, as someone who knows some of these states -- it`s a red state, obviously -- think of that?

STEELE:  Well, look, it tells you -- again, this is where that whole cognitive piece kicks in.

Folks out there, regardless of what you think in your little corner of your tribe, the rest of the community around you has an opinion, a thought, an idea about what`s happening. And they are not disinclined to share it.

And so when you see these headlines, and when people have objectively observed and internalized the last 3.5 years, they`re going to come back to you with what their expectations are and what their fears are and what their concerns are.

In fact, Ari, that`s what Donald Trump did in 2016. He took that internalized fear and those concerns, and he tapped into them, because the body politic, including the media, was either ignorant of them or didn`t take them very seriously.

So that fed that narrative. So we know that now. We have learned from that. And the question is, what is the body politic, whether it`s center-left, center-right, whatever it happens to be, what does the media now do in taking lessons from what Donald Trump has already taught us?

Because we know what`s coming next. It`s going to just take what we have already seen to a whole `nother level of education. Well, do you want to wait for that education? Or do you want to use the tools in front of you, the ballot box and your voice, to take the country in a different direction?

MELBER:  I appreciate it. You have been there. You know these issues. You`re smart, and you`re so clear. It`s like vitamin water.


MELBER:  I appreciate you, Chairman Steele.


STEELE:  You got it, my friend. Same back at you.

MELBER:  Well, thank you. We will have you have you back, I soon.

STEELE:  You got it.

MELBER:  Let me tell -- when you`re free.

Let me tell you, what you`re looking at here is history, living history, a four-year anniversary that is very important and plays into where we`re headed.

I`m going to tell you what we stand tonight about that story coming up.

And later, as mentioned, guess who`s on THE BEAT? Chris Matthews, with Blondie`s Debbie Harry. I know you won`t see that anywhere else. That`s tonight.

Stick with us.


MELBER:  We`re in the election season.

If you`re into politics, this week`s New Hampshire -- New Hampshire primary might have you kicking back and remembering, where were you four years ago, as Donald Trump was winning his first primary, as Sanders and Clinton were battling it out?

And that 2016 race turned on many things, many unpredictable, including the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, which was exactly four years ago today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We joined you with this breaking news. Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court`s most influential conservative, has died.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CHIEF CORRESPONDENT:  Justice Scalia died some time last night while in Texas at a guest ranch. This is a big shock. He was in apparently robust health.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Americans are waking up to a huge story this morning, the passing of Justice Scalia, who is being remembered for his brilliant legal mind and fiery style on the bench.


MELBER:  The political reaction was faster than any other such death of a public official.

In fact, there was an RNC presidential primary debate that very night. Candidates were weighing in, and the candidates still seen by many Republicans as a long shot, Donald Trump, had his names ready.


QUESTION:  First, the death of Justice Scalia and the vacancy that leaves on the Supreme Court.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):  He will go down as one of the great justices in the history of this republic.

You talk about someone who defended consistently the original meaning of the Constitution.

TRUMP:  We could have a Diane Sykes, or you could have a Bill Pryor.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR:  The next president needs to appoint someone with a proven conservative record.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX):  Justice Scalia was a legal giant.


MELBER:  No one knew that night that Mitch McConnell would take that seat hostage, or that Trump would win and benefit from that maneuver, which have never been done quite like that before.

Now, Donald Trump did not ultimately nominate either name he offered that night, Judges Diane Sykes or Bill Pryor.

But, actually, as the history unfolds, I can tell you, I happened to be anchoring special debate coverage that night, along with my colleague Hallie Jackson in the spin room. And we asked for details of why Donald Trump claimed to favor those particular judges.


HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  You also had the first question out of the gate on a day when everybody is talking about the news of Justice Scalia`s death.

And you seemed prepared for it. You mentioned a couple of names that you would pick as a nominee. Can you elaborate on that?

I think -- I believe Diane Sykes was one of the names you mentioned.

TRUMP:  Diane Sykes.


TRUMP:  She`s very, very -- a wonderful woman, a -- from everything I know, she`s very conservative, highly thought of, from Wisconsin. And I think she`d be a good choice.

But, again, I`d have to vet Diane Sykes. I`d have to -- she`s right now a federal judge. I would have to vet many people.

I will tell you, the perfect would be somebody as close to Justice Scalia as we could find.


MELBER:  Hallie, one more question.


JACKSON:  Ari has got one more you, I think.


JACKSON:  Hang on.

Go ahead, Ari.

MELBER:  If you can ask, what does he like about Judge Sykes and Judge Pryor?

JACKSON:  Ari Melber is our anchor here. As you know, Ari has our...

TRUMP:  I know.

JACKSON:  ... very deep legal background.

TRUMP:  Deep thinker.

JACKSON:  He wants to know, what is you like about -- what is it specifically that you like about Judge Sykes and Judge Pryor that led you to bring them up?

TRUMP:  A tremendous record, a very conservative record, highly respected, great intellect, all of the things you need to have a great Supreme Court justice.

JACKSON:  Thank you much -- Ari, back to you.

Mr. Trump, appreciate it.

MELBER:  Thank you, Donald Trump, for joining us and joining Hallie Jackson.


MELBER:  Thank you joining us as, we say.

And you heard the standard, very conservative, highly respected.

Here we are, just four years later. Donald Trump has put two very conservative officials on the Supreme Court.

And it is a reminder, as we follow all these issues, how that night was so different than the day before. No one knew what was coming. No one knew what was happening, and no one knew that Donald Trump was going to win that race and what would come after.

A reminder to all of us to keep our eyes on the facts and avoid the predictions.

We wanted to share that history capsule with you, as the Supreme Court will surely reverberate in this election.

Now, when we come back, as promised, what I have been telling you about, two icons, Chris Matthews and Blondie`s Debbie Harry, on THE BEAT.


MELBER:  Time now for a very special edition of "Fallback."

We are joined by two legends, first music icon Debbie Harry, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, lead singer, of course, the groundbreaking brand Blondie, known for hits like "Call Me," "Heart of Glass," and "Rapture," a 1980 hit that "The Wall Street Journal" notes was the first major hip-hop hit to feature original music, not samples.

Debbie Harry pushed limits. She bent genres. She has sold over 40 million albums worldwide. And her new memoir is "Face It."

And, tonight, she is paired with a giant of journalism making his "Fallback" debut, Chris Matthews, host of the longest-running show on MSNBC, "HARDBALL," author of six bestselling books, a veteran of the Carter White House and Tip O`Neill`s Congress, an anchor who has interviewed just about every modern chief executive, from candidate Trump to Presidents Bush, Clinton, Ford, and Obama, and has been in the middle of some memorable lines of questioning in American politics.



SEN. ZELL MILLER (D-GA):  If you`re going to ask a question...

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS":  Well, it`s a tough question. It takes a few words.

MILLER:  Get out of my face.

If you`re going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer.


MATTHEWS:  Senator, please.

MILLER:  I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.



MELBER:  So great to have you together.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.


MELBER:  I love it.

Chris, what in American life, big picture and politics, needs to fall back?

MATTHEWS:  We watch our network all day.

And I learn a lot from our network. But one thing I learned about these politicians, Democrat, Republican, left and right, is, they all play the same game of half-truths.

So, they will say -- during the fight over impeachment, they`d say, well, they eventually got the money. The Ukrainians got the money. That`s the half-truth. They did eventually the money.

Full truth, they got caught. The administration got caught and had to give them the money. Everybody -- both sides play this game. The Democrats will say things like, we have got inherent power to subpoena people. We could send this sergeant of arms out and grab anybody we wanted.

No, you can`t set. That may be written somewhere. But you can`t do something like that. So, stop saying it.

MELBER:  What`s on your mind, if anything, that needs to fall back?

HARRY:  I`m not sure what fall back means. Is it -- does that mean surrender or give up or just reconvene within yourself?

MELBER:  Well, I`m glad you asked. You know who`s an expert on this? Chris Matthews.

MATTHEWS:  It means stop it. It`s not working.


HARRY:  Uh-oh. OK, fall back and reexamine, OK.

MELBER:  I will give you one of mine. People out to dinner together on their phones...

HARRY:  I hate it.

MELBER:  ... I think that needs to fall back.

MATTHEWS:  Whole family, four people, all with their own phones.

HARRY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  All talking to their phone.

HARRY:  Yes.

MELBER:  Have you ever seen such a thing?

HARRY:  Oh, absolutely.

And that`s when I know the party`s over, when the phone comes out. I say, oh, well, that`s it.

MELBER:  And, if I may, my understanding is, you know how to party.


MELBER:  Now people are saying things are wavy. Have you heard this?

HARRY:  Hmm.

MELBER:  Wavy is good.

MATTHEWS:  That is good?

MELBER:  Wavy is good, yes.


MELBER:  You know what slang word has really survived?


MELBER:  Cool. Didn`t people say cool in the `70s?

HARRY:  It has. It has. Yes.

MELBER:  And the `80s and the `90s. And we still say cool now.

MATTHEWS:  But neat didn`t make it.

MELBER:  Neat did not make it, no.

HARRY:  No. It might come back, though.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think neat will be back?

Cool, it`s -- well, I keep thinking about cool. Obama was cool. Sinatra was cool. I think we know what cool means, like, you`re unruffled. You go through anything. You don`t get rattled. You`re like -- you`re cool in every kind of way.

MELBER:  So, Debbie, did you -- this is good.

Did you think of yourself as cool when you were doing this punk stuff, new rock, hip-hop, or you were just doing your thing, you didn`t care whether it was cool?

HARRY:  Well, I liked cool because I wanted to be a beatnik.


HARRY:  So I sort of knew I aspired to cool.

MELBER:  What advice would you give to young people?

HARRY:  Oh, God.

I think, basically, just be committed to what you want to do. And, like you say, hold on to yourself. It`s complicated. But if you have your core of your creativity, which is what I have to rely on, that`s really where it counts.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when John Huston, the great director, was old, and he had -- he`s got an oxygen mask on, and he was on "Dick Cavett" one night, which was very popular.

And Cavett said to him, what keeps you going? Why are you here? And he said, interest.

It was the best line I ever heard. I`m interested.

I think interest is everything. And you can`t fake it. You`re either interested in not, or in a person -- interested in a person, or you`re not. You can`t fake that. You can`t pretend to care about a topic. Either you are or you aren`t.

And I`m gifted that I have always been interested in politics.

MELBER:  And, sometimes, the people who are deeply interested in others are also the most interesting to learn from.

Thank you so much for being here.

HARRY:  Oh, thank you.


MELBER:  That`s how you know I`m wrapping. You can tell I`m wrapping it up.


MATTHEWS:  Hey, thank you.

MELBER:  Chris Matthews, who...

MATTHEWS:  You`re a great -- you`re a great lead-in, as we say in our business. Love your lead-in.


MATTHEWS:  It`s right before me.

MELBER:  And he might be working on a memoir, too, so he can get tips from you.

My special thanks to Debbie Harry and Chris Matthews.

Again, go out and get the book. It is "Face It."