KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: In the meantime, THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.
Hey there, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Katy.
Real quick, I was able to congratulate Chuck, but not you, on your joint interview. I thought it was so newsworthy and interesting hearing the officer and his lawyer. And I just thought you guys did a great job. So I said it to him. Now I get to say it to you.
TUR: I appreciate that. We don`t often get to hear from people who are accused of crimes of that -- and face those charges. And we weren`t expecting him to be there.
But it`s always good to hear from someone in his own words, and we`re really happy that he decided to speak.
MELBER: A hundred percent.
I mean, you and I both know, I think viewers know, lawyers will always tell people, no matter what it is, don`t go out and do the interview. You guys got the interview, and we all learned from it. So it was super interesting. And nice to see you as always, Katy.
TUR: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you.
And welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber. Are tracking several big developments tonight as the week begins.
Fallout over the Trump administration`s botched ousting of the top federal prosecutor in New York, as well as fallout from that big rally. We also have an exclusive interview tonight with the former head of the SDNY.
But we begin with Trump`s political humiliation in Tulsa, where a man who prides himself on crowd size found a rally so sparsely attended that "The New York Times" reported Trump looked out on the tiny crowd in -- quote -- "horror."
Reports of a backstage meltdown, leading Trump aides to consider even firing the campaign manager heading into today. You can see the pictures, the venue basically a third full. And as you will see in some of the rafters, a kind of a color coincidence, where Donald Trump`s trademark MAGA red crowd was supplanted by a sea of blue seats.
One Trump-friendly adviser said this was obviously -- quote -- "a major failure." No way around it.
And everyone knows that crowds matter in politics, because supporters show your strength. And Donald Trump looked weak in that empty hall, and weakness doesn`t help your credibility.
As Shawn Carter famously said, we don`t believe you. You need more people. Trump needed way more people, even on Republican turf. And he knew it afterwards, returning home forlorn, mournful, tie undone, holding, you see there, that red hat that looked about as crumpled and disappointed as the rally itself.
And that, everything I just told you, was just the attendance, because the bad political news for Donald Trump may have, to be clear, some public health benefits. Medical experts were pleading with Tulsa residents, avoid this rally, don`t come.
And two more staffers who work on Trump`s rally testing positive today, bringing the total number to eight. We wish them speedy recovery, as we do everyone who`s been battling this.
Coronavirus cases hit an all-time high in the state. And now 26 states are seeing increases over the last two weeks in the virus. That`s the context for Trump`s other problem from that same rally night, that he claimed he was ordering a testing slowdown, which has generated massive controversy that Trump is now either walking back or sort of dodging.
The pressure is coming from inside the campaign, as well as external advisers. And now a former top, top aide slamming his former boss, the president, for leading the country in what he says is clearly the wrong direction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How do you think history will remember Donald Trump?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I hope it will remember him as a one-term president who didn`t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can`t recall from.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Let`s get right to it.
We have Heather McGhee, co-chair of the Color of Change and a longtime BEAT expert for us, and returning to THE BEAT, Emmy-winning journalist Soledad O`Brien, now host of the talk show "Matter of Fact."
Great to see you both.
And, Soledad, when you look at the rally, the political side, as well as the substance and where we`re headed tonight, what do you think?
SOLEDAD O`BRIEN, HOST, "MATTER OF FACT": I think the United States continues to be on a terrible trajectory when it comes to coronavirus.
I know that the conversation -- right, coronavirus has kind of dropped to the B block of the news, if you will, as protests took over the A block, but the bottom line is, we`re seeing spikes, right, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Colorado.
I mean, things that should have been done a long time ago, Miami is just now mandating masks all the time. I mean, in New York, we have been doing that for a very long time. And so we`re playing catchup, and we still don`t have good contact tracing. We still don`t have enough testing, et cetera, et cetera.
So, the president at his rally -- I know his press secretary likes to pretend that he was joking, but, actually, I don`t think he was. I think he genuinely believes, if you just didn`t test, you wouldn`t get the numbers. You don`t get the numbers, didn`t happen.
I think it`s an indication of just the leadership vacuum around the biggest health crisis in America and in the globe in the last 100 years, right? Public health officials are out and out full-on freaking out in many places and very concerned about the rise in hospitalizations.
And the president is utterly rudderless when it comes to leading.
MELBER: Yes, you mentioned leadership, which is where the political and the substance meet, Soledad.
And, Heather, here was John Bolton. Again. We have noted on the show how he`s late and appears self interested in what he`s uncorking. But, in journalism, you get all kinds of information that way you get it. This is what he now says, having been in the room and up close, about Donald Trump`s approach to governing and public service.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOLTON: I think one of the most important things I learned in watching Donald Trump up close is, he doesn`t have any philosophy. He doesn`t proceed on that basis or on the basis of a grand strategy or a policy.
It`s all at that Donald Trump. And that, to, me is a lesson for Americans as a whole, but particularly for conservative Republicans, because if Trump wins reelection, which is entirely possible, there`s no more guardrail, based on what the Republican Party may think about him.
So people need to understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HEATHER MCGHEE, CO-CHAIR, COLOR OF CHANGE: I do think that John Bolton waiting was selfish. And I do think that he should have spoken out much more loudly during the impeachment trial and put more pressure on Republicans to subpoena him.
But you can`t deny that everything he says in the book, from what I have seen so far, adds up. This is a fundamentally selfish human being who has put 300 million lives in his hands and is leading our country from crisis to crisis.
You saw in the Trump speech on Saturday the same old divide-and-conquer tactics, right? He hit a quick trifecta of racism, talking about sort of an immigrant or a Latino home invader being -- stalking a wife whose husband was not home. He talked about thugs in the street. He talked about just sort of a menacing threat from people of color and the Confederate statues that are our great and beautiful heritage, our meaning, of course, I suppose, just the descendants of people who committed treason against their country to defend slavery.
And yet, with all of that racist fear-mongering, you look at his agenda, and it`s massive handouts to the very wealthy in terms of taxes, massive handouts to the biggest corporations, and total malfeasance and incompetence when it comes to the very basic responsibility to keep Americans safe and to keep the lights on.
We have to remember that, at the end of this month, so much of the aid that was passed by Congress is going to expire, and we`re going to see potentially today tens of millions of people being evicted, losing their homes to foreclosure, going without extended unemployment insurance.
And this is all on Donald Trump.
O`BRIEN: But we have been knowing this, right, Heather?
And, by the way, Heather, nice to see you.
Right. I mean, there`s no shocker where you`re like, oh, my gosh, who knew that the Donald Trump did not have some core beliefs guiding him, as he went from being a Democrat or a Republican who over the years has said over-the-top-crazy, frequently racist things.
I think John Bolton is selling his book. That doesn`t mean that everything he`s saying isn`t 100 percent true. It`s just that he`s using this opportunity to try to get more people to buy his book, which is unfortunate. If he had testified, I think it could have had a lot more -- it could have been a lot more useful in terms of both informing people and also giving some leverage to having our elected officials be able to do something about it.
And, Soledad, I want to also play the way that the rally has potentially changed the trajectory of the Trump campaign. And so -- and you have been so thoughtful on these issues, both the substance and the journalism, which is, on the one hand, this is inherently superficial.
On the other hand, calling out the superficiality and understanding that this is literally how their decisions are made, I think, is an important thing for people to understand as they go into the ballot box, because that means everyone can understand what the priorities are.
Here`s Brad Parscale, the campaign manager, discussing this. Take a look.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think a fundamental mistake was made. Overpromising and underdelivering is the biggest mistake you can make in politics.
And even if you received a million or 1,200,000 RSVPs, it`s always about the turnout. What that means is, we have to go back and reevaluate the system in which people were getting those tickets and determining if they were real.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`BRIEN: Forgive me. I`m sorry.
MELBER: I just have to correct myself.
No, I`m sorry. I mentioned -- this was actually the former campaign manager Lewandowski. The current manager is Parscale. I wanted to correct myself.
Go ahead, Soledad.
O`BRIEN: I was just going to say, he`s not wrong. Clearly, there are a bunch of teenagers -- I know, because I have some -- who were ordering tickets online and a bunch of their friends.
I was surprised, though, that the campaign wasn`t aware of that, because it was an open -- It wasn`t a secret. I mean, it was a -- some people were doing it as a protest. Others were doing it as a joke, but it was a an open conversation for young people who are on TikTok.
And so I was surprised that the campaign didn`t sort of see some red flags in that. Then, of course, you have people who are saying, don`t go to a place indoors where you could get coronavirus, right? That, in and of itself, red flag for people trying to stay away.
Then you have, when you advertise a million people going to one location that only seats, what, 20,000 people, another red flag. So I was surprised that they didn`t kind of put all those red flags together and say, maybe having a conversation about a million-plus people is going to be a huge mistake.
But, I mean, that`s not like the sharpest tacks here. Come on.
MCGHEE: I do think that this crowd size piece is helpful for rattling the president, who is absolutely obsessed with his appearance in many different ways.
The fact that he spent 15 minutes out of a presidential address not talking about the DACA decision, that defeat, that protected the dreamers last week, not talking about the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the globe -- he didn`t mention those once, except to sort of obliquely critique protesters as thugs -- but 15 minutes defending him doddering down around a ramp at a West Point speech, 15 minutes.
No, was just going to say that it`s clear that this idea of his own appearance is completely -- he`s completely obsessed with it. The problem is, what he is and is not paying attention to has life-and-death consequences for the American people.
And his desire to make himself look good by downplaying the coronavirus, by not willing to wear a mask, by fomenting a partisan split on mask wearing, it`s just -- it`s reckless. It means that he is unable and unfit to carry out the constitutional duties of the office.
He should resign. The Republican Party should remove him. Let`s be very clear where this fault lies, with his enablers. And I think we can talk about it back and forth. But, ultimately, he should face the ultimate consequences for these actions.
O`BRIEN: Heather is 100 percent right, but also goes back to what you started with, right?
There`s -- he doesn`t believe it. There`s no center. It`s about how many people showed up. It`s about somebody saying bad things about me. That`s all he responds to. And it`s been this way now for going on for years.
There`s no sort of shocker in that. And so I think Heather`s 100 percent right on that. It`s -- he has so many more important things he could be talking about. He cannot physically bring himself to do it. He does not have a bone in his body that seems to care.
MELBER: Perhaps not shocking, but we`re benefiting from the insight and context.
Great way, in my humble opinion, to start the week.
Soledad O`Brien and Heather McGhee, thanks to both of you for joining us.
MCGHEE: Thank you.
MELBER: Thank you, guys.
We`re going to fit in a break.
We turn to a big story we haven`t hit yet, Attorney General Bill Barr trying to strong-arm independent prosecutors, firing the head of the famed SDNY.
I`m going to get into it. I`m going to tell you what we have learned about it, our reporting, and an exclusive interview with the man who actually literally led that office. You won`t see that anywhere else tonight.
Also, later in our broadcast, a New York police officer caught on tape using a controversial choke hold.
And, later, a special video we don`t think you will want to miss tracking how Donald Trump and his allies are using a trick that can actually be decoded and fact-checked. Maybe it`ll help you with all your MAGA friends or any time you`re doing political fact-checking. We have that later in the hour as well.
I`m Ari Melber. And you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Sometimes, the most important news is not what happens all week, but it`s the moves the government tries to hide from you, like a new legal scandal the Trump administration tried to bury this past Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": We have breaking news from the Department of Justice, specifically from the super important Southern District of New York.
The U.S. attorney in SDNY, Geoff Berman, is out in what appears to be a Friday night news dump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
A few facts here. SDNY handles some of the most pivotal investigations around. It`s been run by the big names like James Comey, Rudy Giuliani, David Kelley, Preet Bharara.
And that prosecutor Geoff Berman, who`s now ousted, he was a respected lawyer who even donated to Trump`s campaign. This is not some story about a clash with Obama era personnel.
And the stakes here are even greater than some other stories about Trump turning on his hires, from John Bolton to impeachment witness Gordon Sondland.
The reason is that this New York office has been jurisdiction over Trump. Let me repeat that. That`s not true of other places in the country. This office has criminal jurisdiction over Donald Trump and his business and his family and any associates that do work for him in New York, be that Michael Cohen, who this very office sent to prison, or Rudy Giuliani, who was reportedly under investigation by this office.
And you know who has known all this from the jump? Donald Trump. He was laser-focused on SDNY as soon as he won the election, even calling Berman`s predecessor, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who you see right here, to Trump Tower for a personal meeting during the transition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: The president-elect asked, presumably because he`s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years, asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I`d be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney to do the work as we have done it, independently, without fear or favor for the last seven years.
I agreed to stay on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Without fear or favor. He meant it. And, apparently, Trump didn`t like it, because he briefly kept Bharara on, but then fired him a few months later, after repeatedly personally calling him on the phone, trying to cultivate a relationship, which Bharara later said appeared improper.
This all matters right now, because it`s Berman who replaced Bharara. And legal experts and critics are saying, Trump wanted someone more loyal, but Berman ultimately followed the tradition of being aggressive and independent of politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEOFFREY BERMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: We are aggressive. We`re appropriately aggressive. That`s the history of the office. And I think the public is better for it.
Politics does not enter into our decision-making on charging a case. We bring a case when the case is ready to be brought.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s how Berman put it. He`s now out over the weekend. And there`s evidence supporting what he just said there, because the SDNY has been bringing many notable cases when they were ready, from cases that gave the Trump administration headaches, to cases against a Trump nemesis who talked about running for president as a Democrat.
Remember Stormy Daniels former attorney Michael Avenatti.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I`m going to stick to my predictions. I said that Michael Cohen was going to plead the Fifth. He pled the Fifth yesterday. I have said that he`s going to be indicted. There`s no question he`s going to be indicted.
I have said that he`s going to roll over on the president. I don`t think there`s any question about that, when push comes to shove.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Some liberals, cheered Avenatti`s attacks on Trump and Cohen.
Well, the SDNY went on to indict both Cohen and Avenatti and also investigate Trump`s inner circle and any other big cases that came along, ranging from key banking and foreign policy issues to indicting Jeffrey Epstein for sex trafficking of minors after a renewed spotlight on a 2018 plea deal he received from another Trump official.
Now, that obviously caused some consternation inside the administration. The office also indicted two Giuliani associates linked to the Ukraine collusion scandal that, of course, got Trump impeached. And it was probing Giuliani himself, a move that we know concerned Donald Trump.
Berman referring to the ongoing cases in this class this weekend -- now, he didn`t name them specifically.
But, tonight and over the course of their period, while everyone`s digging into this, legal experts suggesting that the SDNY probe of Giuliani could have driven Barr`s attempt to oust Berman. Others noting how the SDNY`s indictment of Turkish bank Halkbank, which allegedly evaded Iran sanctions, was also putting heat on Trump and causing strife.
Indeed, take it all together tonight, that is the very probe that John Bolton is now alleging Trump may have tried to interfere with or tried to obstruct.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOLTON: The president said to Erdogan at one point, look, those prosecutors in New York are Obama people. Wait until I get my people in, and then we will take care of this.
It did feel like obstruction of justice to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It felt like obstruction of justice to him, a skilled lawyer who was in the room as a witness.
John Bolton is saying he thinks the president he served committed a crime of obstruction. That`s big alone. And now you have this new energy and action around it. And that allegation brings you all back to the beginning, remember, Donald Trump`s sizing up Obama appointee Bharara, just like he did Comey and others.
He replaced him with Berman, who may have looked like one of Trump`s people. But was he just ousted for not acting like it?
This is already a huge deal for each of those reasons, which are backed by evidence. Then add to that what also went down during the Friday night news dump. Attorney General Barr falsely said Berman was resigning. Berman said that wasn`t true. And then he appeared to prove it by not resigning.
And then even some Republican senators were pushing back on Barr`s unusual plan to have an outsider take charge of this office, which is handling all this important stuff that I just told you about.
And that was a potential violation of federal law, because the deputy is supposed to take over. Now, we can also report so much has happened since they tried to bury this on Friday night that that particular part of Barr`s original plan has failed.
Berman`s deputy, Audrey Strauss, will take over, keeping independent prosecutors in charge, rather than the plan to get a handpicked Trump ally in there, at least for now.
There are also reports that the Senate may not confirm any new nominee for this office before the election. So that`s a lot. And I want you to understand and know all of it because it is so important.
So let`s wrap up here with a couple questions. If this plan was on the level, why didn`t Barr just tell the truth about it on Friday? If these prosecutors were not digging further into these key sensitive areas for Trump, why did the Trump administration pick this fight right now with everything else going on?
And if the Trump administration begins with an unusual clash with the one office with the power to indict Trump and his allies in New York, and then fires that person, Bharara, as I showed you, is it possible that now this clash is also about that very power?
We think the answers are significant, and we will explore them with our expert guests when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: We`re joined now by former federal prosecutor John Flannery and Melissa Murray, professor of law at NYU.
Professor, having laid out the reported history, your view of this?
MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, that was quite an issue spotter that you laid out.
But, again, it seems like the -- what you have laid out is actually what`s going on. Something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. If this had been a legitimate removal for cause, it would be obvious that the attorney general would say what those causes were, whether they were professional misconduct or incompetence.
But there was no suggestion of that. And, in fact, it seemed like Attorney General Barr was willing to slot Geoff Berman into some other high-ranking position in the DOJ. So it can`t be that he wasn`t doing his job well. It might have been that he was doing his job too well.
MELBER: And, Professor, build on that point. You added something that we only briefly touched on, which was, in the original plan, which Berman`s says was false, that Barr`s announcement was false, he was offered a type of promotion or come back to main Justice.
So you`re saying, being the expert litigator and legal expert you are, that Barr cannot simultaneously claim this person was good enough to be promoted to a bigger job in D.C., but bad enough that he had to go immediately.
MURRAY: Well, it beggars belief to suggest that you would slot this person into a really important post in main Justice, the head of the Civil Division, while he was unable to execute his role as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
And, further, the fact that the administration seemed willing to put in another person, who`s now the head of the SEC with no prosecutorial experience, but with a lot of experience playing golf with the president, suggests that the real issue here was that they didn`t have the right man in the right job at the right time.
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think it`d be surprising to me that any U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York would want to (AUDIO GAP) Civil Division afterward.
But I think the context tells us a lot. You and I sat, I think on a Sunday, when Barr had written a summary of the Mueller report which misled the nation as to what the findings were. And from that moment forward, we have the amoral Trump and his corrupt mouthpiece, Barr, working against the investigation of his president, both in terms of victimizing those who did the investigation, trying to transfer prosecutors in the case.
And the most recent examples, of course, are Stone and, after that, of course, Flynn. And now we have this instance, in an office where they`re investigating Cohen, his lawyer, Rudy, his lawyer, the inaugural committee. We have the bank, the Deutsche Bank, in that district, which was his prime lender, that is, Trump`s.
And we have his statement, courtesy of Bolton, that he spoke to Erdogan, and Erdogan, he assured, don`t worry about those people in the Southern District. They will take care of them. So we have a whole cornucopia of possibilities for obstruction, which is I believe what this is.
FLANNERY: And a lot of people have said, well, the president can fire whomever he wants. Well, on a certain level. But there`s an old legal principle that goes back to England, which is that a judge cannot judge in a manner in which he has an interest.
FLANNERY: So you have a president who is basically choosing who his prosecutor is, and he`s -- he wants to choose a guy who couldn`t handle a misdemeanor case of the Southern District of New York and who is just interested in holding the position.
MELBER: Well, John...
FLANNERY: I think you can see right through it.
And you`re pinpointing John, though, some of those key cases, and the efforts to kneecap the independent system that we have, and that is really the foundation of the rule of law in the United States.
I should say, on a lighter note, John, I know you keep a busy home office. I`m surprised the people calling you don`t watch you when you do a legal appearance on television. But that`s between you and them.
FLANNERY: Yes. Well, I think some of them do.
MELBER: Some of them do. But some of them are calling.
And the phones -- everybody wants your legal opinion, us as well.
For both of you, before I bring in one more special guest, because this is such a big story, though, for both of you, John, and then Professor, why is it important for folks who don`t follow this in and out that the literal federal law requires the independent prosecutors stay in this pipeline of cases, that the president does have the technical authority to remove people?
But, unlike say, White House staff, John, Berman was fighting tooth and nail -- he -- obviously, it`s not his style to go clash with his boss and call him, effectively, a liar -- to make sure that the independent prosecutors stayed in, John.
FLANNERY: Well, an independent prosecutor means that you just don`t interfere. It`s not that complicated.
But Trump either out of desperation or because of some specific reason that we don`t know, he wants to look at this. And as we`re talking, this Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee has two whistle-blowers, who are going to talk about how political it was interfere in the Stone case by the Justice Department, how political it was in the (AUDIO GAP).
And I think they`re hoping to have Berman. And I don`t know how candid he will be. And I don`t say this as a criticism, but, sometimes, we feel that we have a professional responsibility to, I don`t know...
FLANNERY: ... advance the comity of the moment.
I think, in this case, speaking specifics is really necessary, because we have a problem in this country, because, as important as Berman and the Southern District is, my home district originally, this is a pattern across America, laws, judges, the Congress, usurping all of these things.
Only a despot takes these positions. And we have seen it in other nations. And it doesn`t surprise us that Erdogan is his best friend, a strongman, Turkey, and that he would help him, because there`s a Turkish bank in that Southern District.
And maybe he`s thinking...
MELBER: I`m jumping in. I want to bring in the other guest.
But it goes to the substantive part of Bolton. There`s the book part of Bolton, but then there`s, what are the underlying facts? And, as both of, you often have complex witnesses. And the question isn`t whether you love them and want to go to their book event, but whether they`re adding value.
Professor, I want to get your view on that as well.
But I also want to bring in Matt Miller, former chief spokesman for the DOJ in the Obama administration, well-versed on these issues between main Justice and SDNY.
Good day to you, sir.
MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE CHIEF SPOKESMAN: Good day. Good to see you, Ari.
MELBER: For you and then Melissa, building on this conversation, there is a part of this where you see the limits of even Attorney General Barr`s approach.
Reading from an expert, Matt, who was speaking to "New York Times" -- quote -- "As attempted power plays go, this was an abject failure and served only to further undermine the credibility of the attorney general and the president," a former prosecutor who actually headed a key office to the FBI.
Your view, Matt?
MILLER: I think that`s right.
Look, one of the things we learned from this episode is, Bill Barr is every bit as corrupt as we thought he was after watching how he interfered with prosecutions in the D.C. U.S. attorney`s office and, of course, his work on the Mueller report. But he`s slightly less competent.
This isn`t the first time he`s interfered with an office and seen it blow up in his face. If you look at the way he interviewed (sic) with the sentencing of Roger Stone, that became a major issue. One of the witnesses is going to testify before Congress on Wednesday.
And I think the reason it`s blowing up in his faces is, he`s underestimating the independence and the commitment to due process and commitment to independent justice by some of the career men and women at the DOJ, and not just them, obviously, but some of the president`s own appointees, Geoff Berman being first and foremost on that list.
And so I think to kind of build on what John was saying, going forward, obviously, the House has an investigation already opened into politicization at DOJ. I hope Geoffrey Berman comes forward and talks.
But I hope some of the people, some of the career people at the Southern District will come forward and talk too, and not just to the inspector general, but to Congress.
The attorney general is completely blowing off any oversight. He`s refusing to turn over documents. He hasn`t testified to the House once in the year- and-a-half that he`s been attorney general, breaking all precedent set by previous people in that position.
I know it`s tough for people to come forward. But when the attorney general is attacking the department from within, it really is incumbent for everyone who works there, who cares about that department to step forward and let their voice be heard. And I hope some of them will.
MURRAY: I think it`s worth noting -- and Matt mentioned it -- the Jessie Liu incident at the D.C. district, where she was also removed, with the promise that she would then go on to head Treasury, and she never did get that post .
It was speculated that she didn`t get that post because she was unwilling to play ball with the administration in the way that they wanted.
But we have seen this over and over and over again, and it`s absolutely unprecedented. Even during the Bush years, when we did U.S. attorney`s offices under fire, we never saw it quite like this. And we certainly never saw the Justice Department having such a stake in making sure the right U.S. attorneys were in the right place at the right time.
FLANNERY: Well, I think that what we have here is a total breakdown of our legal system, in the sense that there`s no one above these people to correct them.
I was encouraged that the Judiciary chair, Nadler, is trying to introduce a bill to withdraw $50 million from the office of Barr. Also, we lawyers have written a letter saying the I.G. should investigate how he`s handled these cases. And, apparently, so has Nadler made a request that the I.G. in the Justice Department look into these things.
These are not strong enough matters. There`s censure. There is subpoenas for those that would be particularly effective for those people who are no longer in Justice or in the administration, and then they should use the inherent power.
In other words, they should use the muscle. My dad always said, a poor workman blames his tool. Well, we have the Constitution. We have the tools. We`re not using them, and we haven`t been using them.
And I don`t know why we stand back from it, because there`s nothing more important than the law in this nation and following the Constitution and conducting it with a demeanor that stands across the world as a beacon for who we are and how we believe in freedom and how we believe in fairness.
And this administration believes in none of those things. We`re living in a period of time when we hear nothing but racism. We hear nothing about -- but the police state. We have a people who do not believe in the equality of all of us.
FLANNERY: And the community of nations and this nation, by the demonstrations, have shown they don`t believe that.
MELBER: And, briefly, because I`m running over on time, but Matt Miller, given your time there, do you have any view of which cases may have set this to a boil?
MILLER: No, I don`t.
Look, we -- I think the question for me is, was there a general threat that they were worried about with five months to go before the election and a U.S. attorney who has over -- has jurisdiction over so much of the president`s interests?
Are they just worried that they can`t have someone independent there, in the same way they`re worried about having independent inspector generals and so have been firing them? Or was there a specific threat, either one of the ones that we have mentioned or one that we don`t know about?
Remember, there can be other -- other investigations going on under the radar, to which -- about which we have no idea, but Bill Barr would know about them.
Matt Miller, Melissa Murray and John Flannery, all really important insights here.
Fit in a break, but we have something special coming up, the excuse that Donald Trump tries to use and the tape to show you why it doesn`t work. All about LOL.
But, first, we have a BEAT exclusive. We`re very excited to have back on the program former SDNY chief David Kelley breaking this all down when we come right back.
MELBER: We have been covering the ousting of the U.S. attorney in New York.
And we are joined by a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. David Kelley led that office, a position once also held by Rudy Giuliani, James Comey, Preet Bharara. You see David up there in the middle of the screen, as well as now on the lower right Geoff Berman, who, like David, is a former U.S. attorney for SDNY, I should also mention, in full disclosure, my former boss in law.
Good to see you, sir.
DAVID KELLEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Nice to see you, Ari.
MELBER: We have discussed this office and Mr. Berman before. We discussed the ousting of Preet Bharara. And here we are again discussing this regarding to Mr. Berman.
First, have you had any communication with him recently?
KELLEY: I haven`t. I have not, not since this happened, no.
MELBER: When`s the last time you did have communication?
KELLEY: Oh, I don`t know, sometime in the last -- right -- probably right before the pandemic.
MELBER: Yes. So you guys talk. You know him. And I hope you don`t mind me starting the -- I hope you don`t mind me start the interview out like a deposition. That`s what you taught me, you know?
KELLEY: It`s been good. I haven`t been in a deposition lately, so fire away.
MELBER: So, unlike most Americans, you do have contact with Mr. Berman, you do know how this works, and you ran that office.
So, number one on a scale of zero, totally normal, to 10, a scandal that`s off the level, how do you view what`s happened, based on the public information?
KELLEY: I go somewhere between 10 and 12.
Look, I think the best-case scenario for DOJ is to say that this looks really bad. The worst-case scenario is exactly what it looks like, which is trying to subvert the independence of the Southern District.
MELBER: Wow. That`s big.
I mean, as you know, there are times where tie goes to the runner, presidents pick their team, but so much has gone down with this office. Do you think there are cases publicly known or not that were in the minds of Barr or Trump on this move?
Because that would look like meddling, or, as John Bolton put it, a former Trump aide -- I`m not quoting the resistance here -- potential -- quote -- "obstruction of justice."
KELLEY: Yes, look, I think -- I think -- I was kind of with Matt from the last segment, which is to say, I`d be surprised if it was directed at any particular case.
I just think that, at this juncture, the fact that they have someone in there who`s independent is not what they want. They would rather have somebody who is more beholden to the administration, somebody they can keep an eye on.
And that`s why, for example, they were initially planning to put in the U.S. attorney from New Jersey as the acting, which is mind-boggling, but -- not because there`s anything wrong with the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. It would have been unprecedented to have somebody come in from another office to run the Southern District, particularly under these circumstances.
MELBER: So you are joining the some of the other experts who have said that there are tells here, that even if you try to take a benign reading of it, the fact that there was a clash over the accuracy of what Barr`s initial plan was, the fact that, rather than putting any qualified person in, including the deputy, they said, oh, we will take a person from another busy office and double their workload, that tells us what, in your view?
KELLEY: If I were to say it was handled ham-handedly, I might be giving a compliment, under these circumstances.
MELBER: And what does that tell you about Bill Barr at this point?
KELLEY: Look, I`m not -- I`m not quite sure what -- I mean, this is just one in a series of the continuum where I think, by most former federal prosecutors, that the Justice Department has become politicized, that it is not untouchable from the executive branch as it once was.
And that`s a sad day.
And I know that means a lot for you, because you have served, as many of your colleagues have, in both parties. You`re not about coming around and picking fights with a particular attorney general.
Final question to you.
Giuliani responding. Let`s see what he`s saying -- quote -- "If they`re investigating me, they`re doing it in the most surreptitious way possible, the strangest investigation I have ever heard of."
And he basically suggested, I`m upset they`re giving away this information. He says -- quote -- "I have nothing against Berman, but I`d like him to clarify what the hell is going on."
Giuliani feeling, I guess, the perhaps Berman, if there was a probe touching Giuliani -- we know his former associates were indicted -- that Berman was doing something potentially wrong there.
KELLEY: I don`t know what he`s pointing to that Berman`s doing wrong. It wasn`t Geoff Berman who was coming out and talking about the Giuliani investigation. It was others who were speculating that that`s the reason why the attorney general came in and made the move that he did.
So I don`t think there`s anything there. And I`m not quite sure what we can take from what Mr. Giuliani says about anything these days.
And, finally, I will mention to viewers you also have a role as representing another former SDNY chief, James Comey. There has been a lot of noise out of DOJ about those issues, which I think take on perhaps a different cast seeing how this is going, and whether any retread of the Russia probe or other things are going to happen.
Are they going to happen by November? What`s your view on all of that? Or does the quiet on that suggest that there`s no there there?
KELLEY: Well, certainly, look, by many accounts, John Durham is actively under way.
What exactly he is doing is -- a lot of people are guessing. But it`s kind of -- you had the inspector general look at this and say that people acted appropriately. You have had Senate committee come out and did an extensive investigation, say no one did anything wrong.
And what the Justice Department is going to go in and find that those others did not remains to be seen. But you do have to kind of wonder what the motive is. And Mr. Giuliani`s talking a minute ago about Berman releasing details about his -- about the investigation of Giuliani.
But, frankly, if you really want to talk about those standards, you look at what the attorney general has been saying about Durham`s investigation and the suggestion about the indictment of -- or the people who are very familiar who are going to have a problem when this investigation concludes.
So, it`s troubling.
MELBER: Understood. And I know you pick your words carefully, so appreciate all the legal insights on this.
David Kelley, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, thank you, sir. Good to see you.
KELLEY: Thank you.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Up ahead: the White House saying Donald Trump was only joking about stepping in on the COVID testing scandal, something he himself seemed to have to clean up.
But we have something special to show you that you may want to see and how it basically puts this joke defense in context.
MELBER: Medical experts say testing is a key part of dealing with the coronavirus. In fact, without good testing, any country, including the U.S., is flying blind.
That`s why President Trump`s new remarks on testing this weekend has got him in so much trouble.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people. You are going to find more cases. So, I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump said that in public. Everyone heard it.
So how would Trump`s aides try to clean this up, because it was too far even for them? They`re not doubling down. They`re not saying it was the right thing or true. They`re now claiming that it was some kind of joke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: You know that was tongue in cheek. Come on now. Come on now. That was tongue in cheek, please.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: I don`t know that it was -- I don`t know that it was tongue in cheek at all.
QUESTION: Did you ask to slow it down?
TRUMP: If it did slow down, frankly, I think we`re way ahead of ourselves, if you want to know the truth. We have done too good a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: There`s pattern here. And it`s important, especially heading into a contested and furiously intense campaign and election.
Donald Trump will make completely outrageous comments, so far, even for him, the man who claims he never apologizes, that his people need to walk back somehow. And so, time and time again, they settle on trying to argue that it was all just a joke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
SARAH SANDERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, the president was making a joke.
TRUMP: When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don`t be too nice.
SANDERS: I believe he was making a joke at the time.
TRUMP: China should start an investigation into the Bidens.
SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): I doubt if the China comment was serious, to tell you the truth.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): So that`s not a real request.
TRUMP: Then I see the disinfectant. Is there a way we can do something like that by injection?
I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
And you need to keep this in mind every time this arises. President Trump was dead serious about seeking foreign help from Russia, from Ukraine, from China, according to John Bolton`s new allegations just this weekend.
If the punchline of your joke is a secret plot to abuse power that many experts say is literally impeachable, that is not a joke.
When we come back: outcry over an apparent choke hold caught on tape, an important story -- after this.
MELBER: The NYPD is responding to reports of this new apparent choke hold that was caught on tape. And they`re suspending the officer in the incident.
This happened Sunday morning in Queens in New York City, officers tackling 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue to the ground. And, as we always say, a warning on these type of videos: The thing you`re about to see is difficult to watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay back. Stop blocking the view.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo, stop choking him, bro!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys can record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop choking him! Yo, he`s choking him! Let me go, bro!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got him. He`s out. He`s out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let him go!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Bellevue was brought to a hospital.
Now, his lawyer is saying he suffered injuries to the head and wrist. The police commissioner is already acknowledging -- and this is a contrast to some past stories we have covered -- that the incident, the clip of which you just saw, was -- quote -- "disturbing" and an internal investigation has already begun.
We wanted to bring an update on that story.
We`re out of time. So, thanks for watching THE BEAT.
We will be back here tomorrow night 6:00 p.m.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END