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"Bridgegate" TRANSCRIPT: 5/14/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Daniella Gibbs Leger, Ilhan Omar, Bill Baroni, Raul Ruiz

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we have a big show right now tonight, an exclusive with a key player emerging from a major political scandal with a huge ruling from the Supreme Court is breaking his silence for the first time on this show, on this live hour, later tonight.

Also, new twists in the Flynn case, a new focus on potential perjury, and a big reason why there has already been a setback for Bill Barr. We will explain. There has been a lot of developments there.

But we begin right now with a virus whistle-blower against the Trump administration speaking out under oath. You may remember, when the story first broke, we were hearing quotes, we were hearing a little bit of clipped audio.

But now, for the first time, Americans can take this in. The Congress can take it in, Dr. Bright alleging that he was retaliated against and lost his job in the middle of the pandemic all because he says he questioned Donald Trump, and he says Donald Trump put politics and cronyism over the science that could actually save lives.

The doctor testifying about the internal warnings he says he issued amidst this pandemic.


DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Our window of opportunity is closing. I fear the pandemic will get worse.

There will likely a resurgence of COVID-19. The virus is still spreading everywhere. Nurses are rushing in the hospitals thinking they`re protected, and they`re not. Our stockpile is insufficient. They didn`t have a plan. A number of excuses, but never any action.


MELBER: That is statement under oath from somebody who was in this disturbing and tragic march day by day, trying to deal with the pandemic as it hit the United States, many calling it a sobering warning from a medical expert on the inside.

Now, you also have the debate over testing ongoing. That also involves policy questions and trade-offs. Here`s what Dr. Bright said, breaking with the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as Americans getting a test, they should all be able to get a test right now.

BRIGHT: The urgent ramp-up of the testing did not include full consideration of all the critical supplies needed to support that ramp-up of testing.

TRUMP: I don`t think anybody has done a better job with testing.

BRIGHT: We can find ourselves in a few days down the road not having the tests we thought we had.

TRUMP: They should be able to get a test.

BRIGHT: Our nation was not as prepared as we should have been.

TRUMP: We have the best equipment anywhere in the world.

BRIGHT: There hasn`t been a real thought-through plan about how to maintain that equipment. That equipment now is failing.

TRUMP: We have prevailed on testing.

BRIGHT: We had a critical shortage of these swabs.

TRUMP: We`re number one in the world by far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Establishing a testing protocol, was that done here?



MELBER: No. There you see it stacked up.

And you can make up your own mind about who you believe and which forum you find more credible, given that Dr. Bright is facing the Congress. He is facing adversarial questions. He is speaking under oath.

All the questioning comes while the president pushes further for reopenings, going even as far as praising a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that struck down a stay-at-home order. That was last night.

Now, this is what some of the bars can look like immediately after a ruling like that. One governor there in Wisconsin is describing this as basically chaos in pandemic season. The president has also been ignoring his own guidelines on reopening, once again going to, yes, of all places, a mask factory without wearing a mask.

What you can see around him, some others were.

The AP reports that Donald Trump still basically thinks that the idea of being seen in a mask, despite everything that has been said by his own administration and doctors and what we have learned, it sends the wrong message, not on health care, but on the economy and might make him look -- quote -- "ridiculous."

Also today, I can tell you three million more Americans have lost their jobs under our formal tallies. That means 36 million of us out of work.



TRUMP: And I did.

BARTIROMO: The first business president, exactly. But now we have got 33 million people filing for unemployment. We have got 20 percent.

TRUMP: Nobody blames me for that.


MELBER: Thirty-six million people suffering this day in and day out, wondering what comes next.

And amidst all of this, an update on another story that was really one of the very first Washington scandals of the coronavirus era, someone you may remember from all of the Russia and Mueller probe issues, the top Republican senator on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr, stepping off his powerful role heading that committee.

Senator Burr stepping down because the feds have just searched his home regarding this stock sale scandal. They`re investigating whether he deliberately profited off classified briefings about the pandemic. FBI agents reportedly seizing Burr`s cell phone as part of this stock sales inquiry.

So what does it all mean when you take it all together? Obviously, we have the economic pain. Some of that was going to be unavoidable in a worldwide pandemic. And, obviously, we have the tussles within the administration.

But when you look at what the president has been saying about trying to boost the economy reportedly to help himself, even at the cost of lives, when you look at Senator Burr being incredibly accused, we will wait for all the evidence, but at least being investigated for putting himself and his personal profits above doing the right thing for his constituents, you have on your hands the outlines of a set of scandals that expose how American government isn`t working for you amidst one of the most existential public and health crises we have ever faced as a nation.

With that in mind, I want to bring in California Congressman Raul Ruiz. We should note he is an emergency room doctor. He questioned Dr. Bright today and is sitting in the intersection of these issues, which is why we go to you on both the medical and the governmental oversight.

I`m also joined tonight by a friend of THE BEAT, Daniella Gibbs Leger of the Center for American Progress. She also worked for President Obama.

Thanks to both of have for being here.

Congressman, beginning with today`s hearing, what do you think is important that people know that Dr. Bright was saying? And how do you know whether it`s true?

REP. RAUL RUIZ (D-CA): Well, you know, first of all, as an emergency physician who practiced on the front lines during the during the H1N1 and public health expert educated a Harvard, the most striking takeaway is that it didn`t have to be this way.

All the deaths and the economic turmoil could have been avoidable to the degree that we`re experiencing it now. At the right time in January, early February, Dr. Bright informed the administration of the urgency to start making plans and massively producing masks and tests and other critical equipment, but he was dismissed.

And if that`s not striking enough, the other takeaway is that we could learn from that mistake and start preparing for the future and the surge that may come in the fall season, but, instead, we still don`t have the preparations in place.

We don`t have a plan to distribute remdesivir or any other potential future antiviral or medication. So, you know, those are two very loud alarms that the American people and the administration should very much heed.

MELBER: Let`s also play again from the hearing where you questioned the doctor the discussion on vaccines. Take a look.


BRIGHT: If you can imagine the scenario this fall or winter, maybe even early next spring, when a vaccine becomes available, there is no one company that can produce enough for our country or for the world.

It`s going to be limited supplies. We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure that we cannot only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it, but administer it in a fair and equitable plan.

RUIZ: And that`s not the case at this point?

BRIGHT: We don`t have that yet, and it is a significant concern.


MELBER: Your reaction?

RUIZ: My reaction is that we need to learn from the past and be forward- looking.

Because of the president`s and the administration`s dismissal of the early warnings, we are several months behind in this pandemic, but we can still make aggressive change and massively produce what we need, testing, massively create contact tracers that can massively fortify our containment phase to prevent an overburdened health care system, and we need to start acting now, so it`s not too late.

We can do it. But we need the president to stop dismissing this virus. We need the president to follow the public health experts` advice and recommendations, so that we can do this responsibly and safely and prevent another shutdown in the future.

MELBER: Daniella, I`m curious your reaction to this news from Senator Burr. It`s not nothing when people in power give up power, this under obviously some significant pressure.


Actually, I`m surprised it happened, given what we learned about the timing (AUDIO GAP) sale of stocks. It definitely (AUDIO GAP) type of thing other people have been indicted for (AUDIO GAP)

MELBER: Daniella, I have to jump in. I have to apologize to you. I`m jumping in because we`re having the technical difficulties, which we do with everyone helping out and working from home.

I think our folks are going to talk to you to see if we get your audio better.

But, Congressman, I will give you the same question while we work on that, which as a question, Congressman, about Senator Richard Burr. These reports have come out now he is under investigation. Your reaction.

RUIZ: You know, my reaction is that, if indeed he profited by insider information, at the expense of the American people, I think that would be very shameful.

We`re going to let the investigation take its course. But, as you mentioned earlier, Ari, the sign of true leadership is to put the others before self, to put the American people above own personal interests. And that`s what we need.

We need an administration. We need a leader in office right now who is credible, who is consistently transparent with the American people, who really gives them the truth, and with clarity, so that we can have all the information we need to make the right decisions...

MELBER: Right.

RUIZ: ... make the right preparations and have the right equipment necessary to save lives.

MELBER: Congressman, I want to go over two other things that are related.

We mentioned some of what`s happening on the ground when different nights we try to show different parts of the country. Let me show you again what we showed viewers in Wisconsin, because you have this reopening. And the question is, how do you do it? Do you do it in a responsible way with CDC guidelines, if you do make the choice to go out?

Or do you have what you see here, which is no social distancing whatsoever, no masks? It`s like back to business as usual. And we don`t show this to criticize these individuals. We show it as a warning.

You`re a doctor, and you can walk us through the fact that these individuals may be putting themselves at unnecessary risk. And if you`re in a place where it`s reopened and you want to have a beer, I think the answer is, it`s America. That`s your choice. You can go out and have a beer if you`re in that place.

But we are being told by all the experts to do that with distancing. So, leave a couple of seats between each other with the beer. I want to mention that for your analysis and also play something that many viewers will recognize.

One of our doctor experts, Dr. Joseph Fair, contracted the virus and spoke about, with his informed knowledge, where he thinks that might have occurred, which also relates to the same issue of whether people are following guidelines. Take a listen.



I had someone sitting right next to me. None of the attendants were wearing masks.

If you`re in a confined space, like an elevator or an airplane, and the viral particles flowing through the air, it can get through your eyes. And I did not have goggles on.

As an epidemiologist, my very best guess is, probably, that`s how I got it.


MELBER: Dr. Fair recounting his belief that he may have contracted this on a flight, where at least some individuals were potentially too close.

Your reaction, and as we have dealt with our audio issues, Daniella will be rejoining us. So, I will have her go after you.

RUIZ: Well, my reaction as a physician and public health expert, Ari, is that we need to go back to the basis.

This is a virus that is highly contagious, that`s transmissible from droplets that can enter the eyes, nose and mouth and get a person infected, that can last on surfaces.

And individuals can get really sick, whether or not you have underlying illnesses, whether you`re 75 or you`re 12 years old. Those that have underlying illnesses and are older can die at a higher rate than those that are younger, but still the young can still die, as evident.

Therefore, there is a right way to open our economy and get our workers back to work, and then there is the wrong way.

MELBER: Right.

RUIZ: The right way is to wait when it`s safe and we have de -- we`re at the downslope of the transmission curve, and we have safeguards in place in order to do the contact tracing appropriately and rapidly with enough tests and isolation and quarantine location with social support services in order to put out flares before they become surges, in order to put out campfires before they become forest fires.

MELBER: Right.

RUIZ: The wrong way is to prematurely go back to work without the safeguards, and then you have people causing another surge, which would only require us to shut down the businesses again, which would only hurt our businesses.

MELBER: Right.

RUIZ: The right way helps our economy, keeps our businesses open. The wrong way hurts our economy and risks lives.

MELBER: Right.

And, as you say, it could be a double loss if it`s not done well.

Congressman Raul Ruiz, also Dr. Ruiz, thanks to you for wearing both hats today.

And then, Daniella, Fat Joe used to say mic is on before he spoke. And our mic was too off too much.

So, thank you for trying. We will have you back for sure when we fix it.

Thanks to both of you. My apologies.

RUIZ: Thank you.

MELBER: We`re going to fit in a break. I have historian Michael Beschloss on the other side of this break on presidents and how this kind of situation can define everything history knows about them. That might be bad news for Donald Trump.

Also, this was a big one, the judge in the Michael Flynn case pushing back on Bill Barr`s attempt to intercede and reverse a guilty plea of a friend of Donald Trump. We have that story.

Congressman Ilhan Omar also here to talk about how to help the poor in this pandemic.

And an exclusive interview tonight with an insider and a front-row seat to scandal.

All of that. Stay with us.


MELBER: The president`s leadership remains under fire.

 "The Financial Times" reporting Trump`s coronavirus meltdowns in response to many people speaking out from inside the White House. They find a president who ignored increasingly urgent intelligence warnings from back to January, dismissed people who claimed to know more than him, and they don`t trust anyone, according to reporting, outside a tiny group, led by Ivanka, Jared Kushner, and really very few people who have expertise.

For more on the big picture, I am thrilled to bring back someone who adds context at times like this.

Michael Beschloss is a presidential historian. He is the author on 10 books on the presidency. He has one of the great jobs in this business, which is being the NBC News/MSNBC in-house historian.


MELBER: And these are tough times.

Yes, sir. Well, we love it.

These are tough times, as you and I know. They`re hard times. But a lot of our viewers, and I hear from some of them, do appreciate when we can widen out and think a little bit about what you do and what presidents do and are defined by in times like this.

So, for your big picture, I want to play something we put together, just comparing some of this over the years. Take a look.



GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So PPE has been sporadic.

TRUMP: Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people.



TRUMP: I want them to be appreciative. If they don`t treat you right, I don`t call.

OBAMA: Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.

TRUMP: Nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, and we are all mortal.


MELBER: Compassion and mourning as a feature of the presidency.

Your views.


You need a president who is going to agonize over decisions.

Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor, he knew that thousands of Americans had died on those ships because of mistakes that he made. It caused him to redouble his efforts to try to make sure that he could keep the American people safe.

Usually, Ari, when you see a president in crisis, you begin to see what they`re made of. But in almost every case throughout history, you see presidents grow because of that emotional reaction to this danger to the American people or the suffering or, in certain cases, lack of survival, deaths.

But, in this case, I think I would say that Donald Trump has probably changed less than most presidents since the day he entered office.

MELBER: Why is that?

BESCHLOSS: I think part of it is that this is not someone who has had a rich political experience.

The gamble of the people who voted for Trump in 2016 was that this is someone who had huge leadership potential, and he just hadn`t gotten the chance to show it, because he hadn`t led something larger than the Trump Organization or been outside of business.

And so, when he`s dealing with something like a pandemic, he doesn`t have a sense of history that allows him to draw on the experience of earlier presidents, and he doesn`t have life experience that equips him to do things in this crisis really with very little preparation.

MELBER: Right.

BESCHLOSS: Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, had lived through World War I as assistant secretary of the Navy. As a war president, it was almost as if he does was doing it again.

MELBER: Right.

And, finally, Michael, putting this president even to the side, as we all go through this, what lesson do you draw from history? Are there any leaders in this presidential modern era that give an example for us to try to follow each in our daily lives?

BESCHLOSS: Almost every great leader in crisis gets a lot of examples.

Abraham Lincoln would never have made a decision about the Civil War for reasons of politics. 1864, he was told the Emancipation Proclamation is really unpopular. You will get more votes if you veto it. He wouldn`t think of doing something like that.

Franklin Roosevelt would not say, D-Day took place and there are fewer casualties than really was the case. He knew it was so important that, if he was going help Americans protect themselves and their country, they had to believe in the word of the president. He had to always tell the literal truth.

MELBER: All things for us to keep in mind, particularly truth, which intersects some of what we were covering earlier in the hour. How do we all deal with the truth as different parts of the country rebound in different ways?


MELBER: Michael, I appreciate you being here.



BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Me too.

MELBER: I appreciate you one-on-one, and we will have you back soon, sir. I`m better for it. Thank you.

BESCHLOSS: Be well. We will look forward to it. Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, sir.

We turn next to this new Supreme Court ruling connected to a major political scandal and an exclusive that I am so excited about -- when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: Welcome back.

And now to an exclusive.

Many parts of America are, of course, closed for this pandemic, from business, to sports, to even local service like state and local courts.

But the Supreme Court is open. It is an essential part of government that confronts issues which will not wait. They rule on whether to spare or green-light executions, or whether to force the release of Donald Trump`s tax returns. The court tackled that very case this week.

Or how the Electoral College must function, or tackling these big Obamacare lawsuits, or deciding whether key political convictions stand.

The court now issuing a huge ruling on that infamous Bridgegate scandal, the payback controversy that exploded inside New Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s administration as he was prepping a presidential run.

I`m sure you remember the big picture of it. Key officials shut down lanes on the world`s busiest bridge, creating not only massive traffic back in 2013, but some risk to the citizens they were supposed to serve. It was a revenge plot to punish a Democrat that Christie was mad at.

Now, tonight, we have an exclusive for you on this story, given a set of new court documents in this scandal, which, of course, set off a memorable national furor.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, how a traffic nightmare on the world`s busiest bridge has spiraled into a full-blown scandal with the power to damage Chris Christie`s political future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now to the growing fallout for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Tonight, new details how much his aides knew about that massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: That`s New Jersey Governor Chris Christie right there responding to the bridge scandal rocking his administration, raising questions about the impact on a possible presidential run in 2016.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: If the state of New Jersey is being run in such a way that control of interstate assets is being manipulated on purpose to punish specific towns, that is public corruption.


MELBER: And that alleged public corruption fundamentally altered Christie`s political career and it raised thorny questions of criminal law for that former prosecutor turned governor, like, what did he know?

Now,independent prosecutors pounced. Evidence emerged, like an infamous e- mail a month before this all went down by Christie`s aide Bridget Kelly saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Kelly and another top Christie appointee, Bill Baroni, were convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges for the scheme.

Now, the saga didn`t end there. The appeals wound through the courts. And those former Republican officials took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, which, of course, as you probably know, doesn`t hear most cases, but they took it.

And that was a sign right there was some sort of legitimate legal debate over these issues.

Now, in an era where many political cases are polarized on the court with narrow rulings, you have heard about them, 5-4, we cover them, here is the big news. The Supreme Court came together with a unanimous ruling, 9-0.

Did they uphold the tough approach to that payback scandal that was committed basically in broad daylight? No, the court just ruling that prosecutors went too far, because Kelly and Baroni any did not commit actual crimes involving money or properties to support those charges of property fraud.

That was a big legal victory and development. Obama-appointed Justice Elena Kagan writing: "Federal fraud statutes do not criminalize the conduct at issue."

This is a big case. It has so many implications.

And joining us now for an exclusive interview is former New Jersey Senator and Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority, the man who went to prison for his role in this Bridgegate scandal, Bill Baroni.

Thank you for coming on THE BEAT to really break your silence, sir.


MELBER: I`m all right.

I know that there is a lot to talk about, including your time in prison and the policy ideas you have. So I want to get to that.

But this is the news. This is a big news story. What does this new ruling mean to you?

BARONI: Well, I think, as you just mentioned, Ari, it is historic to have, at a time of great polarization the Supreme Court, both the liberal wing of the court and the conservative wing of the court issue a unanimous decision. That`s historic.

But for me and my family and friends, this has been a seven-year saga of an investigation, an indictment, a trial, an appeal, going into prison, coming out of prison, and going and winning in the Supreme Court.

So this has been a long road that I have been on for seven years leading up to the decision last week by the court.

MELBER: You know, Governor Christie famously denied any role in all of this. Let`s remind everyone. Take a look.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.

I have 65,000 people working for me every day, and I cannot know what each one of them is doing at every minute. But that doesn`t matter. I`m ultimately responsible for what they do.


MELBER: Was his claim and denial true? And does Chris Christie, in your view, bear responsibility for what was done?

BARONI: Well, Ari, as the one person who went to prison for Bridgegate, I think I will -- I think I will let others come to their own conclusions about the governor`s statements.

MELBER: Well, Bridget Kelly, who also paid a price, we mentioned, she`s publicly insisted Christie knew about the lane closings as they happened. Is she telling the truth, do you think?

BARONI: Well, I think you saw during the trial there were a number of witnesses who testified about the governor`s knowledge at various times of the bridge closure, and that Bridget obviously is someone who has gone through this with me.

And we lived through that two-month-long trial. And it`s been a difficult time.

MELBER: So you don`t have any reason to doubt what she asserts?

BARONI: No, a number of people, Bridget, myself, a number of other witnesses all testified that the governor knew during the closures.

MELBER: So, for people watching, here you are. You went to jail for this.

Now the Supreme Court overturns it. Should there be, in your view, any larger reckoning for Chris Christie, based on what you just said?

BARONI: Well, I will tell you, I`m not so much focused on Governor Christie. I haven`t spoken to him in more than seven years.

What I`m focused on is what I learned in the time that I had to go to prison. I didn`t wake up one morning and look forward to it. But I prepared as much as I could.

And I spent time in Loretto federal prison, because, for me, I never dreamed the Supreme Court of the United States would take this case. You know, Ari, the percentage chances of that are very, very small.


BARONI: And I have older parents.

I made the decision to go in and get it over with. So, early in 2019, I went into Loretto prison. And my focus since then, and when I got out, when the Supreme Court took the case and up until earlier this afternoon, helping people who are in the prison system...

MELBER: Right.

BARONI: ... especially now during the coronavirus crisis that we have in all of our prisons across the country.

MELBER: And let`s get to that, because that`s something we have covered a lot. I want to get into that.

I one more piece of Chris Christie business, one more sound bite for you, and then I will move past that.

But I did want to, again, for the record, given everything that`s gone on, you understand the public interest in and this and now the court ruling.

Governor Christie explicitly cited you when saying that another staffer, Wildstein, did this with your approval. I want to give you the benefit of responding in public, now that you`re breaking your silence.

Here is what Chris Christie said:


QUESTION: Who initiated this whole thing?

CHRISTIE: I don`t know. I don`t know. I mean, listen, up to this point in time, up to the e-mails released yesterday, it was Senator Baroni`s testimony that Mr. Wildstein initiated it, at his approval -- with his approval.


MELBER: Is that true?

BARONI: Ari, I think it came across very clearly that Governor Christie`s view of what happened, our case played itself out in the courtroom.

David Wildstein -- the prosecutors have all said that -- came up with this idea. And seven years later, I had to go to the Supreme Court to get those convictions overturned.

MELBER: And I want to read from the court of opinion again, because it is striking, as mentioned.

It`s 9-0. And it says very clearly that you and these other individuals, as reported, did not commit a crime. That`s important in the public record, and we certainly have covered that story.

They also say -- and I want to get your response to this, because it`s the first time you`re speaking -- that you basically, for no other reason than political payback, Baroni and Kelly used deception to halt traffic and jeopardized the safety of the town`s residents.

Do you take responsibility for that and say, OK, it was not a crime, but it was wrong?

BARONI: Well, I have said on a number of occasions that I wish I had paid more attention to the information I was being given.

And I have regretted this for seven years. It`s what led me to go to prison.

And while it`s not criminal, certainly, what I have been trying to do is to make up for those mistakes and helping other people who need help right now. And that`s what I have been focused on.


So, let`s get into that, as promised. I did have some news items there I wanted to walk through.

But tell us what it was like for you when you did go into prison here, what you learned, and what you say you want to do now on policy and trying to be constructive with the rest of the time you have, obviously.

BARONI: Well, I had prepared a lot to go into federal prison. It was a difficult time.

I was in Loretto federal prison, which has about 1,000 prisoners. I was in the camp.

One of the things I learned was preparing to go in is really important. So, what I am doing now is helping people who are getting ready to go into prison, and helping people who are coming out of prison, especially now, with coronavirus and what prisoners are facing.

All the things, Ari, that you and I are able to do on the outside world, socially distance, you can`t do that in prison. Wash your hands often. Sometimes, they don`t even have any soap. Wear a mask. Sometimes, they don`t have masks.

And even get tested. We`re seeing all across the country prisons at both the state and federal level unable to provide tests for people there in the prisons.

And, in one prison -- we saw it yesterday -- 75 percent of prisoners tested positive for coronavirus. Already, there has been, I think, around 2,300 people have tested positive in our prisons; 52 have died, including one last night, a 65-year-old man in California, had a 33-month sentence, and he died of coronavirus.

And when we`re sending people to prison for 33 months, that becomes a death penalty. And, to me, that is that is cruel and unusual punishment. And so I have been doing everything I can.



And I was going to ask you a follow-on -- and I appreciate that, because that`s something we -- as you know, we report on here, and it`s an important story.

What do you say to the skeptics who look at some of these efforts and say wait a minute, where was the concern from, say, a Governor Blagojevich or Republican officials before they got in trouble, that there seems to be a kind of selective awakening on this?

That is, as I think you know, a public criticism out there. I want to give you the benefit of responding to it.

BARONI: Well, again, I`m not sure about the criticism.

But I do think it is all of our responsibility to, at this moment in crisis, we look at people who are really suffering. And there is a group that can`t help themselves.

And we built this strange system where, if you are sick in prison or you`re older, you need to apply to get a compassionate release, but you have to wait 30 days. And then you have got to get a lawyer, if you can afford a lawyer, to be able to go to the sentencing judge who sent you to prison -- it may not be in the same state you are -- and hope that the sentencing judge lets you out.

To me, that is already taking a two-tier justice system and making it even worse, because, if you can afford a lawyer to go into court for you, maybe you have got a chance to get out. If you can`t, well, you`re going to stay there.

To me, that`s not a system, Ari, that`s working. And I think it`s incumbent on all of us.

Now, I have the experience. Having been in prison, I know what it`s like that you can`t be six feet apart, where your bunks are two feet apart from each other. I learned -- some people who are sick in prison.

And I think it`s all of our responsibilities -- and I know you have been talking about it for a long time -- all of our responsibilities to do something about it.

MELBER: Yes. And, as you just mentioned, this is something we talked about. When we talk about racial disparities in the broadcast, you just summarized it, as an attorney and a policy-maker yourself.

Things that are even allegedly, supposedly, about humanitarian concerns and compassion still require money. So, poor people aren`t going to be able to avail themselves of that, while people with the money to fund lawyers do. And that`s, as you said, two-tiered. It`s a real problem. It`s something we have shone a light on.

Bill Baroni, you are an interview subject in demand with everything you have been through, and that big Supreme Court ruling. I really appreciate you coming on THE BEAT tonight. I hope will you come back, sir.

BARONI: Thanks, Ari, absolutely. Look forward to it.

MELBER: Thank you. Really appreciate it, Bill Baroni, speaking to us about that big case.

We have got a lot more news, including some other legal news.

A major twist and a setback for Bill Barr in this Michael Flynn case. We`re going explain the new thing the judge did.

Also, a special guest coming up, Congresswoman Omar on the pandemic and the impacts in her state and on the economy and the recession`s effect on the poor -- when we come back.


MELBER: Take a look at a scene that we are watching play out at meatpacking plants around the country, workers at one plant in Minnesota protesting what they say are demonstrably unsafe, dangerous conditions in the pandemic.


MOHAMMED BURALE, PILGRIM`S PRIDE EMPLOYEE: Management wanted us to stay on the line and still expected us to work while some of us were sick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mohammed is feeling better, but he feels the plant`s working environment is unsafe.

BURALE: I expect they will fire anyone that doesn`t report back to work.


MELBER: A surge in cases connected to that plant, COVID infections spiking 400 and -- excuse me -- 454 percent.

So, you can see, that is just a huge scale of danger. Workers now want management to take what they consider basic safety steps, like increasing testing, and also close the plant so it can be sanitized and made more safe to work in.

This is one aspect of a pandemic and this mounting recession that disproportionately affects marginalized communities, minorities, immigrants, the low income, by definition. When you have a recession, low- income people are going to be more vulnerable.

The Trump administration, though, taking a different tack. They`re literally going to court to try to take away food stamp benefits from something that would affect over 600,000 people.

Returning to the program on all of this and more, we are joined by Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Tough times. I know you`re doing a lot on these issues. Thank you for joining us.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): Thank you for having me, Ari.

MELBER: First of all, how do you get in there and fix some of what we just reported on?

OMAR: I mean, it`s really unconscionable to think of employers putting their employees at risk in the ways in which some of these meatpacking places have done, the things that are happening at Amazon work sites.

We have been pushing in the Ed and Labor Committee to try to strengthen some of the OSHA protections that already exist, making sure that the non- retaliation aspects of OSHA is being fulfilled.

And the current bill that we`re working on really hopefully will address some of the issues that we`re seeing across the country, not just here in Minnesota.

We have written letters. We have spoken up and advocated, and now we`re going to implement it in legislation.

MELBER: Let me play for you -- again, we have tried to spotlight different things around the country. The story, as you know, just it depends where you are and what`s going on.

But this is some of what we`re seeing from workers and on the economic pain. Just take a look.


SONIA BAUTISTA, UNEMPLOYED HOTEL MAID: It`s a big dilemma because -- so, we want to come back to work, but we need to feel safe, because there is no tests.

WILLIAM GONZALEZ, UNEMPLOYED HOTEL WORKER: Then, if we start work without being tested, all of us are going to get sick sooner or later, even though we have masks, even though we have gloves.

CLAUDIA LUGO, FURLOUGHED MACY`S EMPLOYEE: I have not had any income since last day of March. And I`m just, like, trying to survive this.


MELBER: How important is it to put these experiences, facts, and voices first, because it does inform this broader conversation the president seems to be trying to have about how and when you reopen, if we`re hearing from people that reopening to them means going into somewhere that is a risk to their life?

OMAR: I mean, it`s a fact, right, that the -- that there is a particular privilege associated with one`s ability to be able to work from home.


OMAR: There are a lot of people who are in positions who have jobs that allow them to be able to do that.

Many of the folks who are in jobs where they can`t work from home, who are currently out of work truly are low-income people. They are majority people of color.

And many of them want to go back to work. They want to be able to earn a living. They want to be able to support their families. And we can`t do that unless we create an environment safe enough for them to be able to return and work.

And so testing, testing, testing. We have to make sure that we are testing as many people as we can, that we are doing tracing in order to make sure that the communities that they`re going into are going to be protected.

And then we have to push employers to put in safety standards in place and follow those safety standards to make sure that there is a protection for the workers. I mean, this is a communal thing. I can`t only worry about my safety. I have to worry about the safety of everyone else.

And so, when we`re asking people to stay at home, we are not only asking for them. We`re asking them to do that because they impact everyone else around them.

And that is the same when it comes to a workplace. That`s the same when we`re advocating for prisoners, as you were talking about earlier. It`s the same when we are talking about every aspect of life here in this country.

MELBER: Yes, all well put.

The other looming problem -- and I sometimes feel like every night I`m bringing people the worst previews of what else, but this is where we`re at -- is when the recession pressure will build into a potential greater hunger crisis and unemployment -- excuse me -- homeless crisis.

And we have been covering some of the record-breaking lines already at food banks and other places.

I want to just put one statistic for you and ask what you and Congress can do about it, because it`s not obviously just people losing jobs all over the place. Forty percent of the very poorest households in our country, where people had jobs, were working hard, they have been hit by this job loss.

It`s not of their own doing. Now, this was according to the Fed study, 39 percent of people living in households that had incomes of less than $40,000 reporting a job loss, which really creates an acute crisis in those households.

Congress has done some things. But what else, as a final question, should be done about that?

OMAR: I mean, the idea that we`re not actually seeing this crisis and addressing it at the scale it needs to be addressed really is the thing that keeps me up at night, and I`m sure it keeps up a lot of my colleagues in Congress.

We have so many people right now who haven`t been able to pay their rent in April, in May who live in states where eviction mandatory moratoriums are being lifted, and we`re looking at mass displacement.

And we are not addressing that issue and what will happen to our housing market in the scale that it needs to be addressed. We`re also looking at the kind of income disparity that`s being created by having people who already were making a little bit of money now be in a position where they`re not making any kind of money.

And we`re fighting with this administration in extending benefits like SNAP, and fighting to feed children in schools.

I was just recently talking to Speaker Pelosi, and to know that there are - - there is a huge opposition to the amount of money that we`re putting in for people to be able to get food in the SNAP program is really disturbing.

And so we need a comprehensive plan. We need a plan that not only mitigates some of the issues that we`re seeing right now, but truly deals with a lot of burden that will come from the kind of economic crisis that we are currently going through.

This is not just hurt that`s being felt because of the public health and the economic crisis. This is going to be hurt that will be felt for generations to come. And if we don`t do everything that we can to put money in people`s pockets to try to make sure that there is food for people to have, that there is a job that`s secured for them to go back to, that their housing is protected...

MELBER: Right.

OMAR: ... we`re not going to be able to survive this as a nation.

MELBER: Right.

Yes, and survival is a big part of the theme.

Congresswoman, I appreciate you coming back on THE BEAT, even again during the hard times, and sharing some of the perspective you have on the work you`re doing. And I hope you will come back.

OMAR: Well, thank you so much for having me.

MELBER: Thank you.

When we come back, we`re going to give you the goods on why Bill Barr just had a setback in trying to help the man you see on your screen, guilty, convicted Trump adviser Mike Flynn.


MELBER: Now to a new setback for Trump Attorney General Bill Barr.

An esteemed federal judge pushing back on Barr DOJ`s attempt to get charges reversed after Trump aide Michael Flynn pled guilty. It`s been a big story.

But the judge is stepping in and appointing a former prosecutor and retired judge who will literally argue against Barr`s Justice Department, in an extraordinary move, to test whether Flynn should even get off.

Also today, "The New York Times" reporting something that you should see. An FBI official that was involved in this case is basically disagreeing with some of what the DOJ argued in court as support for dropping these charges.

"The Times" reporting that information there was not shared with the federal judge in the case, which means things they should have known are being held back.

Take it all together, and what you have after Barr`s extraordinary attempt to reverse a guilty plea is an extraordinary response, a federal judge saying, this will be litigated further before Michael Flynn is off the hook.


MELBER: And a programming note: Tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, there`s a "LAST WORD" town hall special, Lawrence O`Donnell interviewing Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams.

That is must-see TV.

So, keep it right here now and throughout this evening on MSNBC.