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Boosting Sanders TRANSCRIPT: 2/21/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Daniella Gibbs Leger, Evelyn Farkas, Benjamin Dixon, Nick Akerman, Joe Budden, Paola Ramos, Blake Zeff


And, Ari, like I said, the breaking news, between the Trump administration and the campaign is converging, brother.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  It`s all converging, and it`s all -- it`s 2020 meddling on both sides. It`s really -- it`s extraordinary.

TODD:  Yes, it is. Good luck.

MELBER:  Thank you, sir. We will be watching you tomorrow.

We have a lot of ground to cover tonight.

This breaking news, as mentioned, intelligence officials for the United States government formally telling Senator Sanders that Russians are meddling and trying to impact the primary and trying to make it seem like they`re helping him.

Sanders with a very different response than President Trump, who has been lashing out, of course, at his own intelligence officials over the same or similar set of findings.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg absolutely flooding the race with money. And we`re going to show you more from that newsworthy conversation we had with the judge, who literally ended his controversial stop and frisk program.

So, you`re going to see all of that in tonight`s show.

But we begin with this news breaking courtesy of a big story in "The Washington Post": U.S. intelligence officials formally briefing Bernie Sanders the Russians are meddling in the Democratic side in the 2020 primary and trying to help his campaign.

President Trump also has been informed about this.

Late today, Bernie Sanders addressing the news.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I go to many intelligence briefings, which I don`t reveal to the public.

Mr. Putin is a thug. He is an autocrat. He may be a friend of Donald Trump`s. He`s not a friend of mine.

Let me tell Mr. Putin, the American people, whether you`re Republicans, Democrats, independents, are sick and tired of seeing Russia and other countries interfering in our elections. The intelligence community has been very clear about it.


MELBER:  A forthright condemnation there from Senator Sanders.

As mentioned, but really you can`t overstate how different his reaction is to the president.

But something else is really striking here. What we are learning tonight gives a whole different set of context to what`s been happening in this primary over the last several weeks.

Now, let me walk you through it. First, in the new statements, Senator Sanders discusses when he first learned this news that we`re all learning now from the "Post" story.


SANDERS:  And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections.

QUESTION:  Senator, when were you briefed on this?

SANDERS:  I`m guessing about a month ago.


MELBER:  Good, concise follow-up question. When were you briefed?

And he answered it, which gives us this new information that we didn`t have, because as he mentioned, as we know from Adam Schiff and Chuck Schumer and all the others who are privy to certain information, when they get it, they`re not supposed to release it.

The senator was quite careful, but still quite interesting to look at what he said in the debate, because now we know he knew that there was this effort -- we know it involves bots, we know it involves trickery, we know it involves from 2016 and the Mueller report the Russians trying to make it seem like Americans are worse than they actually are to each other, or hate each other more than they are, because it`s some Russian bot pretending.

So all of this was known when Senator Sanders said this at the debate:


SANDERS:  All of us remember 2016. And what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our election and divide us up.

I`m not saying that`s happening, but it would not shock me.


MELBER:  He wasn`t saying it was happening, but it is happening.

And that`s the difference. Everyone`s got lenses when we watch these candidates debate. If you were watching that night and you like or didn`t like a certain candidate, you might take what they say with more or less credibility.

But as a matter of facts, Bernie Sanders, according to "The Washington Post" and the U.S. intelligence officials, did know the Russians were working to help him. And then you get to how he responds, directly condemning the person in charge, Putin, not freaking out at the Americans who briefed him.

And that`s really the most straightforward way I can put it, because recall the president`s reaction when he learned an intelligence official had told members of Congress -- Senator Sanders is one of them, potentially -- that the Russians were trying to help Donald Trump.

The president didn`t condemn Putin. He didn`t speak carefully, like we just showed you. He just apparently, allegedly, reportedly, whatever you want to call it, went to punish the person who told him the facts he didn`t like, pushing out the person in charge of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.

Now, his term was about to expire because he`s this acting -- in this acting role, but he had reportedly been under consideration to be in that job permanently.

The briefing reportedly -- quote -- "ruined" the chances of that.

And, instead, the president has installed this loyalist, Richard Grenell, a political operative and communications professional, to take over. He doesn`t have an intelligence background. His other qualifications involve a gold level membership in the Trump Organization loyalty program, emphasis on loyalty.

I want to bring in Daniella Gibbs Leger of the Center for American Progress, a former aide to President Obama, and Evelyn Farkas, who knows all about this. She worked in the Pentagon and is now running for Congress in New York as a Democrat.


MELBER:  Yes, you are.

Danielle, your view of the picture we now have of what Senator Sanders knew and how he is dealing with what for many people may be a sequel they didn`t ask for, Russian meddling 2020?

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Right, second verse same as the first.

MELBER:  Daniella. Excuse me.

Sorry, go ahead.



It`s -- we saw this playbook before in 2016. So I`m not surprised that, once again, the Russians are meddling in the Democratic primary. And it gives excellent context to the remarks that you said that Senator Sanders made in a debate the other day.

And I really just want to point out the contrast in his response vs. President Trump`s response. I just -- I know that we get outraged a lot and things are -- we live in the Upside-Down, but, really, this is truly outrageous and should be terrifying for people that the president of the United States, not once has he said, Vladimir Putin, do not interfere in our elections.

I have not seen those words leave his lips. And he instead goes on a firing spree and puts the least qualified person I can imagine to head his national intelligence.

I just -- we have to, like -- everyone has to be outraged. And I`m really looking to Congress to see what they can do about this.

MELBER:  Well, let me show you something, because you`re looking to Congress. A lot of people are looking for where the outrage is.

We`re talking about national security here, when you talk about what`s going on in intel.

We dug this up for contrast. Here were just some Republicans who said they cared a lot about that when the issue was trying to go after Hillary Clinton on Benghazi. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Play fast and loose with our national security.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  And if you choose to put political expediency and politics ahead of the men and women on the ground, for that, you will have to answer to yourself. I find that morally reprehensible.

This was a failure at the most senior levels of our government.


MELBER:  How does that look tonight?

GIBBS LEGER:  Like these people have sold their souls to the altar of Donald Trump.

And they really should just be ashamed of themselves.

FARKAS:  I`m alarmed.

I mean, the Russians, what they`re doing right now, Ari, is they`re supporting the far right, which is Donald Trump, but also stoking up what they perceive as the left, I guess, right? They always support the polar opposites to try to divide us.

They`re not supporting anyone in the middle. And the tactic is using all the bots. So we don`t know. I mean, Bernie -- I think he said something like, I`m not -- Bernie Sanders, he said something like, I don`t know whether my people are spewing the hate.

But if you remember, about a week ago, people were very upset about the Sanders supporters and what they were saying on social media. And there is a valid question now, how many of them were actually Sanders supporters?

And this -- and even if it`s -- even if they really were Sanders supporters, again, this -- the Russians will create question marks in our heads about our democracy. That`s ultimately what they want. They want to discredit our electoral system. And they would love Donald Trump to stay in because Donald Trump is on their side.

That, I think, is the most appalling thing, and, frankly, traitorous, I mean, that this president says, I`m going to be on the side of the Kremlin, and I don`t care about intelligence, because I don`t want to know that.

He probably knows the truth. He knows the Russians are helping him and he doesn`t care about America.

MELBER:  Well, and the Sanders response reminds you that it`s not that hard.

FARKAS:  Right.


MELBER:  As a candidate. You happen to be a candidate now, as disclosed.


MELBER:  I don`t think it`s the hardest thing for any candidate to do to say, oh, they`re coming in. I condemn it. I don`t want that help.

And then, yes, you can move it back to other topics, because you also don`t want, if you`re a candidate, the news, we`re going to cover the facts. But if you`re a candidate, you obviously don`t want to only sit around talking about some other foreign operation.

Let me show you some of our new reporting -- this is airing right now on THE BEAT -- from our colleague Monica Alba asking about all this breaking news of Trump supporters out in the field.

Take a look.


QUESTION:  Do you think Russia is attempting to interfere again in the 2020 election?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think they are. But I`m pretty sure that Trump`s going to win by a landslide. So what does it matter anyway?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it`s fake news. I just think the Democrats fall for it and go, oh, Russia, Russia, Russia, when there`s nothing to it, because I don`t know one person that voted for Trump because a Russian influence them.


FARKAS:  This is the problem. People don`t understand how the Russians operate, how they get into their heads, how they use Facebook, how they use Twitter, how they use bots. They`re fake bots.

I get attacked by them all the time. I`m constantly reporting them. At least now I can report them to Jack, the head of Twitter, because I used to complain that I couldn`t do it. There`s a way to report them now.

But there are too many of them. And the Russians just keep doing this over and over again. Why? Because we haven`t put enough money into protecting ourselves from these intrusions. We haven`t put enough regulations in place.

In the graveyard, you know, the legislative graveyard that`s between the House and the Senate right in front of Mitch McConnell`s desk, there are, I think, something like eight bills, maybe nine, that have been sent over from the House to address election security.

And you know, from earlier this year, about, I think, $200 million, roughly, election -- 250, I think -- election security-related funding was halted and was not approved by Mitch McConnell until everybody called him Moscow Mitch, it became too uncomfortable.

But that`s still not enough. The graveyard that has these bills, about nine of them, I`m told that about four of them have bipartisan support. But Mitch McConnell`s not passing any of them.

So why is the Republican Senate and this White House, why are they actually helping Russians and, by the way, potentially other countries interfere in our elections?

They are being very shortsighted, because they think it`s going to help them. But the Russians don`t care.

MELBER:  Oh, 100 percent.

FARKAS:  If they think that Bernie Sanders would help them, they will help Bernie Sanders, and they will jump from Trump to someone else.

MELBER:  Or if a foreign country can get for cheaper than a wartime operation a destabilizing attack that sows doubt about whether the election was done fairly or who the winner is.

This is serious as a heart attack.

Daniella, I also want to make sure -- here we are in Friday night after quite a week. We had a lot of news. We had a debate. We had a series of pardons that were blatantly for well-connected insiders.

I quoted the "New York Times" report that said these were all basically -- almost all -- rich white men who had executed public relations strategies, some of them well-funded. And it worked. Conning a con is the way one critic put it.

And I want to put context on this, because it wasn`t always this way. There were many members of Congress who used to stand up, especially on these types of issues, whether we`re talking national security, the pardon power.

It`s not a rule that Republicans have to just sit by and pretend this is OK. And, again, I want to play, for your analysis how one -- I just gave an example of several. There was Bernie Kerik. There was Rod Blagojevich. There was Michael Milken, billionaire -- just this week from the president.

One controversial pardon for a fugitive, Marc Rich, by President Clinton drew howls from Republicans even prompted, some forget, an entire independent investigation. Take a look at the Republican concerns about that back in the day.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT):  I think virtually everyone agrees that the partners given to Marc Rich and Pincus Green were particularly outrageous.

JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Marc Rich was among the 10 most wanted fugitives by the United States Marshals Service.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  If, for example, President Clinton issued a pardon to Marc Rich in exchange for donations to his presidential library, this would indeed be a violation of 18 USC Section 201(d).


MELBER:  All three of those individuals are still prominent conservative Republican figures today. Where are they on the use of these pardons tonight?

GIBBS LEGER:  Oh, it`s the death of irony.

Where are they? They are scared of Donald Trump sending a mean tweet. This Republican Party is -- has been going on a long downward trajectory. But they are nothing like the Republican Party that my parents remember from several decades ago, and they really are -- this is the party of Donald Trump.

And they will not stand up to him, even if they know in their heart of hearts that what he`s doing is wrong. They won`t stand up to him because they are scared.

MELBER:  And it`s coming after quite a week, going into, of course, not a normal week, because tomorrow is a workday in politics, a huge Nevada caucus day.

Daniella and Evelyn, thanks so much to both of you.

As we get these new reports tonight on the 2020 interference by Russia, on Senator Sanders` response, there`s new details about the president trying to purge the government of people who disagree with him. That`s a potential constitutional violation.

Later, we have new data we`re counting up on the clues to who is going to be able to run the 2020 race all the way through. And I have a special guest who`s reported on Mike Bloomberg for years, a former Obama aide with received.

All that and, later tonight, guess who`s back? Nick Akerman, the Watergate prosecutor, with the one and only Joe Budden. Pump it up.

You`re watching a special edition of THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  You have probably seen by now this reporting about Donald Trump`s intel chief on the way out, but there is something much broader going on.

Axios reporting that a former personal assistant who just took the job is now -- took this other job and the government -- is telling people who work in the administration it`s time to identify any appointees who may be -- quote -- "anti-Trump."

Donald Trump views this purge as something that can be done by this -- quote -- "absolute loyalist" to purge the -- quote -- "bad people" in the - - quote -- "deep state."

Now, as for those considered anti-Trump from getting promotions, they will be moved around between agencies, kind of a drip, drip, drip slow death, rather than the outright firings. Traditionally, firing people from government for their views is a violation of the First Amendment, among other things.

There is a kind of a creeping paranoia here in Donald Trump`s government, this all happening right after he beat, of course, the Senate impeachment trial.

And the question is whether there is what "The New Yorker" magazine recently called a creeping authoritarianism, a blatant and now increasingly public idea that Donald Trump can seek, demand and get allegiance not to the nation, but to himself.

This is something that his enablers used to even warn about.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX):  This man is a pathological liar.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I think he`s a kook. I think he`s crazy. I think he`s unfit for office.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  Dishonesty is Donald Trump`s hallmark.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR:  He`s a chaos candidate. And he`d be a chaos president.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president.

GRAHAM:  We should have basically kicked him out of the party.


MELBER:  What a difference things make now that Donald Trump is in charge.

When we are back after 30 seconds, we have a very special report and some special guests.

Stay with us.


MELBER:  Now, we are on the eve of this pivotal race for Democrats in the diverse state of Nevada. Early voting has begun.

The final polls have Bernie Sanders now out way ahead. And there`s other data that shows quite clearly who will be able to run a long campaign all the way to the convention if warranted. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has shown his war chest in newly released spending figures, $220 million in one month alone, January, dwarfing all the other campaign spending combined.

Now, over that time, Sanders was first for the cash coming in, raising $25 million. Others, it turns out, were nearly broke. The new figures show Elizabeth Warren headed into Iowa with almost no cash on hand.

That means the millions that she just pulled in over these past days after the debate may have literally kept her in this race. Now up against the wall, she`s also defending taking money from a super PAC that is organized to help her election.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We reached the point a few weeks ago where all of the men who were still in this race and on the debate stage all had either super PACs or they were multibillionaires.

The only people who didn`t have them were the two women. All the candidates want to get rid of super PACs. Count me in. I will lead the charge.

But that`s how it has to be. It can`t be the case that a bunch of people keep them, and only one or two don`t.


MELBER:  And I`m joined now by Paola Ramos, a veteran of the Clinton campaign and an MSNBC analyst.

And making his first appearance on THE BEAT, "Progressive Army" podcast host Benjamin Dixon. He recently broke the story about Mike Bloomberg`s controversial audio defense of stop and frisk policing. Dixon is a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Thanks to both of you for joining me.



MELBER:  Paola, you`re out on the ground.

Your view of Elizabeth Warren both having a good week and also making the case that she`s got to be pragmatic to stay in this?

RAMOS:  She had a big week, thanks to the debate.

But I think it`s interesting to understand why, right? Why? What -- who did that performance impact the most? And I think that boost that we`re seeing, that new wave, is due to people of color.

Now, I think, in that debate stage, she sort of found this voice. And I think a lot of people for the first time, particularly people of color, saw themselves reflected in this new sort of Elizabeth Warren voice.

And it`s very simple why, right? She`s the only person on Wednesday that talked about environmental justice. And I think there was a very important moment when she sort of looked at Bloomberg and said, look, it`s not enough to apologize for stop and frisk. You have to understand the intention behind that policy.

And I think that moment for a lot of people of color, that moment when she sort of nodded across the country and said, systemic racism is plaguing systems, institutions and politicians. That moment was a game-changer for a lot of people of color.

And you can see that today, Ari. Today, Alicia Garza from Black Lives Matter endorsed her. Today, Lina Hidalgo from Texas, the judge from a massive county in Texas, also sponsored her.

So that says a lot about whose eyes are being open and who she was connecting with. And I think that boost is people of color.

MELBER:  Let me follow up. You`re asking about the -- I`m going to ask you about the impact these things have, because you look at these debates, there`s theater, there`s punching, but then there`s also the results.

Elizabeth Warren pressed Mike Bloomberg on that stage about the NDAs. In the moment, he defensively fought back. As recently as this afternoon, in an interview with MSNBC`s Al Sharpton, he said he hadn`t decided, stay tuned about what he would do.

And now ending the week Friday night, the news breaks that he will, he says, release women who had signed NDAs with the Bloomberg company that he ran. Your view of the results she got there, and do you think that`s an issue that matters on the ground in the state you`re in, or it`s separate from what working people are thinking about?

RAMOS:  I think, overall, if you take a step back, and you`re a woman, and you`re a survivor, and you see that apology, and now this willingness from Bloomberg, I think that that is a good thing.

Now, I think a lot of women are sort of -- feel very good about that. And I think a lot of that is giving credit to Elizabeth Warren. But I think now the question is, we`re in Nevada. Now, I`m standing in a state where more than 30 percent of the population is Latina, a state that is not only important because of the diversity and the power of Latinas, but mostly because Latinas here and across the country know what`s at stake, almost more than anyone, right, because we have been the target of Donald Trump.

So the question tomorrow is, if the Elizabeth Warren that we saw on Wednesday, if that message, that connection, that sort of empathy, will that translate tomorrow with Latinas, with immigrants, right? That`s what I`m going to be looking for tomorrow.

And I think there`s a high chance, now more than ever, that it will resonate.


Benjamin, it`s great to have on as a voice that has been doing this reporting I mentioned. You have spoken about your ideas about Bernie Sanders, why you think he`s the right one.

As you know, there`s all this talk about -- quote, unquote -- "electability." Now, you know what Dennis Kucinich used to say. If you vote for me, I`m electable. And we have noticed Bernie Sanders talking about his appeal, his potential appeal, and also, basically, on those terms, not on the way we hear him sometimes talking about economic justice or other issues, but just on electability, he just took a big shot at Bloomberg as well in this new "60 Minutes" interview.

Take a look.


ANDERSON COOPER, "60 MINUTES":  Were you surprised by how unprepared he seemed for some very basic, obvious questions at the debate in Nevada?

SANDERS:  Yes, I was. I was.

And if that`s what happened in a Democratic debate, I think it`s quite likely that Trump will chew him up and spit him out.


MELBER:  What do you think of that argument from the Sanders supporters, that this latest potential entrance into the race isn`t any better suited to beat Donald Trump, which is so clearly on the mind of so many voters?

DIXON:  Yes.

Anyone who watched the debate the other night knows full well that Michael Bloomberg is completely incapable of going up against Donald Trump. If we`re having a question about electability, you have to look at someone who has not only the character, the charisma, but the tenacity to actually stand toe to toe with Donald Trump.

Michael Bloomberg couldn`t stand toe to toe with his own past. And so that`s going to be a problem for him for anyone who believes that he`s electable by the sheer virtue of his money. Money can`t buy the tenacity that Bernie Sanders is bringing it to this conversation.

MELBER:  And you just heard Paola discuss the diversity and the issues in Nevada.

We`re headed after that to South Carolina. That hangs over all of this.

DIXON:  Yes.

MELBER:  Who knows why the Democratic Party as rules that sort of start in one part of country, rush to another, then Super Tuesday, but this is what it is.

DIXON:  Right.

MELBER:  I`m curious what you think, quite candidly, given your reporting on issues that you and others argued are demerits to Mike Bloomberg, the way he racially profiled in New York, what you think about what Sanders is doing or needs to do to build the kind of coalition going into these states?

DIXON:  Yes, we have seen a marked turn from what happened in 2016.

Bernie Sanders` team has put a lot into South Carolina. But now it`s time to push back against this false narrative that minorities, and African- Americans in particular, are not supporting Bernie Sanders, when, in fact, millennials, by a large margin, African-American millennials, we are supporting Bernie Sanders.

There is a large coalition of people who believe in what he`s trying to do for the working class, because, quite frankly, there`s a lot of black people who are working class and not just misfits, according to Dr. Jason Johnson of your network.

MELBER:  Shots fired, as they say.

I will try to get you and Jason on a segment together, so you guys can have conversation.

Paola, what do you think about that?

RAMOS:  Now, I was just going to say, that sort of support for Bernie Sanders, you are also seeing it with the Latino community here in Nevada, right?

I have to say it`s very hard for candidates to sort of earn a name like Tio Bernie, right? That -- we take it for granted, but that means that there`s a lot of trust. And I do have to say that the ground game that we have seen here in Nevada, right, that door-to-door knocking, that trust-building, Bernie Sanders has done a really good job.

And also, we have to say that the older that the new generation is going for Joe Biden. So there`s this interesting ideological dynamic between a part of the Latino group that is sort of holding on to this notion of survival and holding on to like what we have, and this other spectrum of younger Latinas that are sort of ready to be -- certainly ready to dream, you know, ready to take on and be part of this political revolution.

And that is a dynamic that I think we`re going to see tomorrow.

MELBER:  Really interesting hearing from both of you out there doing this work.

Benjamin and Paola, thank you very much.

We turn to an announcement.

DIXON:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Thank you both.

We turn to announcement that`s pretty relevant to what we have been discussing, the presidential race, of course, taking this turn from mostly white electorates in Iowa, New Hampshire, to these other more diverse states.

Well, if you live in or near Harlem, you can join me this coming Monday. At noon, we`re holding a free event to discuss this 2020 race, talking politics, power and, yes, diversity in Harlem. Who is shaping this race? Who should be shaping this race?

We`re going to gather at a neighborhood favorite in Ginny`s at the Red Rooster in Harlem. admission is free, but you must, must RSVP in advance.

So, right now, if you are in or near Harlem and want to join us on Monday, go to, You can even memorize that. And you can get your free tickets now, learn more about the event. Admission is free.

You can even order off the menu while you`re there. And like I said, if you`re in Harlem, I will see you there. We will be filming.

So if you join us, you might even end up on THE BEAT.

As they say on the campaign trail, from Manchester to Harlem -- you know the rest.

All right, we`re going to fit in a quick break.

When we come back, we have a breakdown on uneven justice in Donald Trump`s America.

And, later, I`m joined by a special guest who worked for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on where exactly the race is really headed.


MELBER:  President Donald Trump issued 11 pardons this week and has clearly made it very plain there are more to come.

The Justice Department does have a nonpartisan team to vet any and all pardons and commutations. But Trump is flouting that, now assembling his own personal team of advisers, led by Jared Kushner, to pick pardons.

The president blatantly focusing his pardons on celebrities, on insiders, on people also convicted of offenses that are similar to Donald Trump`s own alleged wrongdoing.

And that is why some of these celebrity pardon recipients are making a seamless shift right into Trump-allied punditry.

Witness newly freed former Governor Rod Blagojevich touting a very familiar line after leaving prison just recently here this week on FOX News.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  There is no crime. There`s no quid pro quo. There was not in my case.

And I appreciate what those congressmen are saying. But they ought to point that -- those statements in the direction of the prosecutors who did this to me, and many of whom are the same people who are doing this to President Trump.


MELBER:  Blagojevich also in that interview recounting who he was surrounded by in prison.


BLAGOJEVICH:  There were men there were committed murder, con artists, a lot of sex offenders.

For most of my time there, my home was a six-foot-by-12-foot -- a six-foot- by-eight-foot prison cell, with four-cement walls, a big heavy iron door that can shut you in.


MELBER:  There are all kinds of grim realities in this U.S. system, so many people locked away, including for many offenses far less serious than those committed by these new Trump-pardoned beneficiaries.

And most of those people behind the bars and the conditions you just heard Blagojevich describe, they have less money to defend themselves. They have no celebrity friends to lobby for them, let alone links to Jared Kushner.

Well, we have covered some of those cases on this show. And here`s another very important, given everything that`s going on, the case of 36-year-old Ashley Menser, who has cancer. Now, she was sentenced to 10 months in jail for stealing $109.63 worth of merchandise, including basic items like makeup, a candle, some hair dye.

This case has sparked outrage already and garnered national attention, including an exhaustive report in "The New York Times." Now, we have done some reporting as well and obtained a transcript of the actual sentencing.

You`re going to hear this for the very first time on television, Menser telling the court that her doctors wanted her to have surgery. It was a hysterectomy. And her lawyer asked for house arrest.

The court says, given the prior criminal history because she had priors, it would be three to six months. And the judge says, well, we will give you a furlough to get health care, so she should go to a facility that has adequate medical treatment.

Now, this is what the system can look like. These are the people who aren`t getting pardons and TV interviews. And it gets chilling.

Menser says -- quote -- "I`m not even going to be able to take care of my cancer anymore. I`m just going to let it kill me."

And the judge replies -- quote -- "You should have thought about that on the last 13 times you stole."

"You should have thought about that" to a woman who reportedly here is facing terminal cancer.

And that particular charge that she has to go to jail for and can`t get treatment instead of was basically petty theft.

Now, you should know we asked for comment on this case from the court. They declined.

And it`s unclear what Menser will do now,what kind of treatment she may or may not be receiving. The court files do show that, at one point last summer, she did refuse a type of treatment.

But this goes beyond the details of this particular case. When you look at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which Donald Trump and now I guess Jared Kushner are going to be considering pardons for, but without the help of many of the nonpartisans in the DOJ, there are almost 20,000 inmates over the age of, say, 55.

Makes you think twice about this claim from newly released white-collar criminal Bernie Kerik.


BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER:  I think the president`s doing exactly what he said he was going to do three years ago, when he said he was going to be totally committed to criminal justice reform.


MELBER:  Reform is not doing favors for people like Mr. Kerik, who are close with your own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, or for Mr. Milken, a billionaire.

Reform, by definition, would involve dealing with the kind of cases I just showed you in the federal system, as well as asking ourselves the larger question:  Why are we locking up so many people for so long?

Whatever this is, it is not reform.


MELBER:  This week has had former Republican mayor Mike Bloomberg in whiplash.

After muscling his way into the Democratic primary with a record $400 million spending spree and getting onto the debate stage, he then got hammered in front of 20 million viewers.

Now even his own campaign admits today that debate did not go well for him. A top Bloomberg adviser saying -- quote -- "I led the debate prep, and I accept the responsibility for inadequately preparing him."

Many watching the debate agreed Bloomberg did not look prepared.


VAN JONES, CNN:  Disaster for Bloomberg. Bloomberg went in as the Titanic, billion-dollar machine Titanic. Titanic, meat iceberg Elizabeth Warren.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN:  Gloria Borger, what`s the big headline?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN:  Bloomberg was awful.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS:  And the big picture big, big, big picture, the biggest winner tonight, Donald Trump.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS:  Bloomberg ate it last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They tore the skin off him.


MELBER:  So that is what happened when Bloomberg was basically seen on a level field, one he doesn`t control, with independent reporters and rival candidates able to press the issues and to also contest his claims.

Now, let`s be clear. That is a contrast to how many voters had seen him up until this week through those million-dollar ad blitzes that Bloomberg does control.

And that is following a playbook that he actually perfected in New York politics, a point pressed by our next guest, who worked right near Bloomberg in New York politics, an aide to Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and New York`s attorney general, as well as a stint in the Obama team, Blake Zeff, who I first met on Capitol Hill and have been friends with for a little while.

And you`re also now a filmmaker and a writer. I think I listed it all.

Nice to see you.

BLAKE ZEFF, JOURNALIST:  Good to see you.

MELBER:  I want to start with that contrast. You have been so close to this. And you have been documenting the money around Mayor Bloomberg and what it actually does. Explain.

ZEFF:  Yes,

I think a lot of the reporting you see is around the fact that Mayor Bloomberg can spend a ton of money on commercials. And make no mistake, that is a big part of this. But it also extends far beyond the commercials in some more hidden ways.

For example, the mayor`s rolled out a number of endorsements from leaders throughout the country, which could be surprising to a number of people, in the sense that he was a local mayor, hasn`t been in office for a long time.

But he spent $110 million just a year-and-a-half ago boosting a number of house races. And, as a result, he has these types of relationships with people who are in office. Another example is community groups. He`s been notoriously generous to these community groups.

And then they have supported him in his past races as well. One last example would be crowd sizes. Very impressive. You see these thunderous applause and these big groups for him when he goes to open an office throughout the country, but they`re also serving free food from the finest places in town and unlimited wine.

And that tends to inspire people to come out on a weekday night.

MELBER:  Unlimited wine could get you out to listen to all kinds of things, Open bar, open bar event.

I think that what you have done in flagging this -- and we have heard it from other reporters and independent people as well -- is explained sort of the architecture around it. And what`s funny is, in a way, piercing that bubble on the debate made the fall even harder, because he went from the perfect ad vision to what we saw.

But you didn`t need just this debate for folks who follow New York politics, as mentioned. There was a moment when he was trying to literally rewrite the rules to get an extra term just so he could stay in power longer that we want to show for your analysis. Let`s take a look at that.


BLOOMBERG:  The rationale for extending term limits is, the city council voted it and the public`s going to have a chance on November 3 to say what they want.

And I don`t think we have to keep coming back to that. When you have a serious question about the economy, I`d be happy to answer it. Anything else?

Thank you very much.


BLOOMBERG:  Nothing else?


BLOOMBERG:  You`re a disgrace.


MELBER:  It`s a little moment on a handycam, but why should it matter, in your view?

ZEFF:  Well, I will leave it up to the voters and viewers to decide whether it should matter, but the information is important for people to have.

The information is, in New York, there was a rule that you can only run for two terms. That was decided by the voters in a referendum. So the voters only wanted their mayors to have two terms. There was a term limit.

Mayor Bloomberg decided that he wanted a third term. And rather than go back to the voters and have them decide, he essentially engineered a backroom deal, where he was able to pull -- get some city council members to sign off on the deal. It also extended term limits for themselves as well.

And one of the ways he was able to curry support for it was, again, using his status as a billionaire in two ways. One, he gave lots of money to charitable groups throughout the city, whether it was nonprofits, arts groups. There was one group that was charged with trying to combat homelessness.

They all came and testified in front of the city council on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg, saying he should really have a third term. Meanwhile, they were getting millions of dollars from him.

Secondly, he went to the publishers of the big paper newspapers in the city, "The New York Daily News," "The New York Post," "The New York Times." These were his billionaire friends, these other publishers, met with them before even unveiling this plan, and got them to all agree that this was a good idea, and that they would then all simultaneously endorse this idea just as he presented it.

And, Ari, for those who aren`t fans or followers of New York politics, it is very hard to get these three papers to agree on anything, let alone on this very controversial idea.

MELBER:  Right. Right.

I mean, and, again, you don`t have to be around New York to understand that the idea of term limits is a bipartisan, longstanding issue. And most politicians, when they get in office, decide, suddenly, oh, maybe they want more time. He actually was able to engineer the full shift.

Stop and frisk was going to be a big issue last night, obviously, in your writings. It`s an issue we have covered. We covered it before the issue got supersized by the leaked audio, which I mentioned earlier in the show. We covered it with the Bloomberg campaign manager.

You wrote, basically, Bloomberg repeatedly defended this tactic throughout his term. He argued crime would soar in 2013. He said, if you don`t want to be stopped -- quote -- "Don`t look like a suspect." We`re not going to walk away from the tactic because we would -- quote -- "lose control of our streets."

And I want to show something which was, he was so misleading at the debate that the very federal judge who ordered this tactic stopped says, basically, that he lied about how it ended. Take a look.

This was on THE BEAT last night.


SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, RETIRED FEDERAL JUDGE:  Mayor Bloomberg said, when I realized it was bad toward the end, I ended it and dropped 95 percent.

That is not accurate.

It wasn`t because he realized, had an epiphany that it was wrong. It`s because of the court rulings.

That`s what happened. I ruled.


MELBER:  Almost out of time, but your view on stop and frisk and how he didn`t really handle it well in the debate either.

ZEFF:  Well, when Mayor Bloomberg came into office, there were under 100,000 stops in 2002.

Under his tenure, it rose up to almost 700,000 stops by 2011. That`s not reducing it by 95 percent. The judge is right. It ended up going down considerably in 2013, when she ruled it unconstitutional.

And the mayor did begin to reduce it a bit just before that, but, clearly, under Mayor Bloomberg, he expanded it very, very dramatically.

MELBER:  Blake Zeff, lots of interesting stuff. And you have certainly been in the field. Thank you very much, sir.

And we will be right back.


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

We are joined by rapper and podcast sensation Joe Budden. You may remember when he burst on the scene with the Grammy-nominated hit "Pump It Up" in 2003, also remixed by Jay-Z, if you will. Today, Budden leads several media projects, including Revolt, State of the Culture. "The New York Times" dubs him the Howard Stern of hip-hop. He also hosts one of the most downloaded music podcasts in the world.

And he is flanked by one of the most well-known prosecutors in the country, Nick Akerman, an expert on RICO and computer fraud. He served in the legendary Southern District of New York  and was, of course, a Watergate special prosecutor.

Thanks for being here, both of you.



MELBER:  You look good together.

AKERMAN:  I would think. I just wish I had this coat.

BUDDEN:  I think Nick, all due to Nick.


MELBER:  Maybe you could borrow the coat at some point.

AKERMAN:  I tell you, it`s cold enough. I`d love to.


MELBER:  Joe, what`s on your "Fallback" list?

BUDDEN:  What`s on my "Fallback" list?

I have got Tyler Perry writing alone in the writing room, in the writers room, just because I have never heard of that concept.

MELBER:  He basically says he doesn`t have a writers room. He doesn`t have a bunch of other writers, as you say.

BUDDEN:  He works alone.

MELBER: "My audience wants my voice."

And you can`t mess with success. He`s gotten this far. But what do you think more he should do?

BUDDEN:  I like the route he`s going. I appreciate the -- how unique it is. Writers rooms are usually reserved for a group of people.

So, to have one person say, nah, I`m not going to do things that way, and to get a little backlash from it, because he received some. But I like it. It`s arrogant a little bit, narcissistic a little bit, things I related to.


MELBER:  Well, Nick, you don`t use the write a motion all by yourself, certainly not a big one.

AKERMAN:  No, no, of course not.

All right, my "Fallback" relates pretty much the same idea of a writers room and what`s going on in the digital world, because Mac just came out with this new Mac Pro that, if you buy the entire ball of wax -- that is, the up-top system, for $54,000, and then for $6,000, you throw in the monitor....

BUDDEN:  Insurance? Oh, Applecare?


AKERMAN:  ... the insurance.

MELBER:  Applecare, they really get you.


Now, look, I`m a big Apple fan. I`m a Steve Jobs fanboy. I have got the iPad. I have got the...

MELBER:  The buds?

AKERMAN:  The buds. I have got the watch.


MELBER:  OK, the watch. A lot of people have the buds.

AKERMAN:  I got the watch. I got the phone and I have got the computer.

BUDDEN:  Pardon me, Nick. Do you like the buds?

AKERMAN:  I really like the buds, yes.


AKERMAN:  Now, I understand they have now have the iBuds with the Pro version that are another $50, which I have not tried.

MELBER:  Let me ask you this. Do you the buds need to fall back?

And, obviously, I`m asking Joe Budden, but so there is a potential pun that I won`t make.

BUDDEN:  I see what you did there. I see what you did there.

AKERMAN:  Right, or a conflict of interests.

MELBER:  Should the buds fall back just because they`re not very cool?

BUDDEN:  They`re not good.

MELBER:  They`re not good sound?

BUDDEN:  I`m probably in the minority with this.

I prefer the Beats Pro earpods. These fall out my ears a lot. When I used to have them, I had to purchase 10 different pairs. They`re plastic. They don`t seem very durable. It`s just not good to me.

MELBER:  What do you use when you`re bumping your favorite song or a deposition recording, whatever it might be in your cases?

AKERMAN:  I`m using these.

But I have not tried the Pro version yet. And I think you`re right. I mean, those are probably a lot better.

It`s just that I bought these just before the Pro version came out.

BUDDEN:  Well, you can`t get the Pro version, because there`s a long waiting list for them now.

AKERMAN:  That`s right. That`s true, but also I couldn`t bring myself to spend the extra money to buy a new pair of these buds just to have the Pro version.


AKERMAN:  The same reason I will not put down $60,000 for the Mac Pro. No way.

MELBER:  Anything else on your "Fallback" list, Joe?

BUDDEN:  The AXE Body spray, when they -- what happened? They kicked the guy off the bus.

MELBER:  Yes, this is a middle school student. And I -- my heart goes out to anyone trying to smell good.

But he used so much AXE, 911 got called -- 911 got called.

BUDDEN:  Nine-one-one, 911.

And that`s excessive. But I think we all did that at one point, which is why I kind of identify, and I kind of have a lot of compassion for the kid. Like, when you get your kid his first bottle of cologne, he probably sprays too much.

I probably still spray too much. And AXE has a very particular smell. So I get both sides of the coin here, but I`m with the kid. I don`t think he should have got kicked off the bus or had 911 called.


MELBER:  Excessive.

AKERMAN:  No, I totally identify with the kid.

I used to do the same thing when I was that age.


AKERMAN:  Forget it.

MELBER:  Can I ask you, Nick, what your scent was?

AKERMAN:  It was -- gee, I can`t remember at this point.

MELBER:  Because, when I got started out -- this is a little personal.


BUDDEN:  Give it to us.

MELBER:  I was at the mall. And one of the samplers put out Jean Paul Gaultier on my wrist, didn`t ask, just put it out.

And it`s a sweet, some say overly vanilla, notes of cinnamon, Joe, but I got hooked on it.

BUDDEN:  That`s a lot of our -- that`s a lot of our first. That was my first, I think.

MELBER:  Really?


MELBER:  Jean Paul Gaultier.

BUDDEN:  Jean Paul Gaultier.

MELBER:  And the bottle is shaped like a body.

AKERMAN:  Old Spice, that was another one.

MELBER:  Old Spice, wow.


AKERMAN:  I used to take my father`s Old Spice. That`s what I used.

BUDDEN:  Did you know that I purchased the Old Spice body spray from the supermarket? That doesn`t sound weird to anybody here?

AKERMAN:  No, not at all.

BUDDEN:  Oh. Well, I`m at home.


AKERMAN:  Not in the least bit.

BUDDEN:  And I sprayed a lot of it.

MELBER:  I love it.

Well, I want to thank both of you, looking very good and looking good together, Nick Akerman and Joe Budden.

AKERMAN:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Everyone should check out the podcast.

BUDDEN:  Thank you. Thank you, Ari. Appreciate that.

MELBER:  Real style, real flavor, real old-school, Old Spice.

Well, you are looking at a live shot of our election headquarters here at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York.

And we will be busy tomorrow. I will be part of our special coverage of the Nevada caucus. That`s tomorrow, Saturday.